By David Schmidt
Few regattas dish up the trade winds, the big waves, and the international scene that can match Antigua Sailing Week. This year there may have been an extra infusion of Europeans, considering the high value of the euro in terms of U.S. dollars. What awaited them this year were conditions on the light side for this exposed flank of the Antilles, with average winds in the 10-to-15-knot range and small, lumpy seas.
Happily, light air merely added a level of complexity to the tricky courses, full of chicane turns, loops, and grand arches, favored by Antigua Sailing Week’s race committee. These courses may have confused American participants who are used to the standard windward-leewards, but they made for exciting times, especially aboard the Super-Maxis Leopard and Rambler, which sail with enough crew to allow for wardrobe changes (the equivalent of a “normal” boat cracking off the headsail sheet a few inches.
Among the Division A boats (all-out racers), the first-generation TP52 Pantera was the boat to beat. While speculation among the bigger-boat crews pegged Pantera’s luck on a soft rating, the crew sailed a brilliant regatta and topped out in first place, ahead of the 90-foot Reichel/Pugh Rambler (don't miss the on-deck account of racing aboard both Rambler and Leopard, coming in the July issue of SAIL).
Also a presence in Div-A were three Gunboat 48s and three Gunboat 62s, racing in a special Gunboat class. These exciting, exquisite all-carbon catamarans turned heads with their speed and stunning good looks. I had the pleasure of sailing aboard the GB48 BLAST, with Peter Johnstone at the helm. The boat was as interesting to sail as it was comfortable to be aboard, and it definitely changed my opinion of big catamarans. Rumor has it that Gunboat is building a 90-footer, and that would sure turn heads, even at such a visual feast as Antigua Sailing Week.
Most of the racing was staged off the southern coast of the island, with charterboats either anchoring or docking at Nelson’s Dockyard while the bigger boats sheltered in Falmouth Harbour. Here, the visual feast included boats as stunning as the J-Class Velsheeda, a wealth of Dutch-built megayachts, and too many Swans, Wallys, and other floating exotica to count. Add nightly partying that was, shall we say, commensurate, and yes, it must be Antigua.