Judging the Classics in Antigua

Author:
Publish date:
           The Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta is as much a feast for the eyes as it is a competition: here Aschanti IV chases down her fellow schooner Eros    

           The Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta is as much a feast for the eyes as it is a competition: here Aschanti IV chases down her fellow schooner Eros    

Thirty-one years after a group of traditional yachts decided to make the most of the Atlantic seas and tradewind conditions on offer immediately outside English Harbour, Antigua, the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta has become a riot of racing and good times. Quite how the unpaid volunteers of the Antigua Yacht Club contrive this annual weeklong extravaganza remains a mystery, but manage it they do. Where else on Planet Earth can you see the likes of L. Francis Herreshoff’s 1936 masterpiece Ticonderoga and the mighty fishing schooner Columbia crossing tacks with Genesis and Free in St. Barth, both built on the lines of cargo carriers from half-models on the beach at Carriacou?

Over in the South of England, there’s an annual classic car revival called the Goodwood. It’s officially about serious racing, but it’s worth 70 bucks just to drive into the parking lot and feast your eyes on the hardware. Antigua Classics is like that. Walking the docks last April on the first morning, the dazzling lineup promised a tough challenge for the rest of the Concours d’Elégance judging team and me, which had been tasked with judging the best of the best in such categories as “Vintage,” for boats built before 1950, and “Spirit of Tradition.”

We were a transatlantic bunch with the eastern half represented by the editor of Classic Boat no less, me, my wife and my old shipmate “Scrimshaw Mick.” A strong west-side contingent was headed up by the sponsor, Bill Lynn of the Herreshoff Marine Museum working with local experts who not only knew their way around but could slip the rest of us some useful inside information whenever necessary.

           The sloop Genesis leads a trio of traditional workboats on a reaching leg   

           The sloop Genesis leads a trio of traditional workboats on a reaching leg   

I suppose judging a “concours” of yachts is simple when marks are purely for brightwork and paint. In Antigua, however, there’s more to it. How do you match up the 143ft replica of a 1923 Starling Burgess fishing schooner fitted out like a superyacht with a 1957 Sparkman and Stephens racing yawl, restored by Gannon and Benjamin as a perfect period piece? Not easy, huh? Add in a couple of Carriacou sloops, a family-run 32ft Spanish ocean racer and the Hoek-designed Atalante, a bulb-keeled fast cruising yacht with traditional lines above water. Now note that down the dock the burgees of the Mylne-designed Fife Mariella and the 103ft Aschanti snapping out stiffly in the trade wind. Like, can’t possibly be compared with like here. The secret is to break the fleet into groups, then judge on criteria where varnish and polish are only one section. Keeping faith with the boat’s original ethos is equally important. The only missing box to check here is for “soul.”

Considering that all these boats had sailed long and hard to be in Antigua, the general standard of sparkle was remarkably high, so digging deeper to make judgments came naturally. Most of the larger yachts I’ve been aboard recently have been modern craft with accommodations like high-end shore-side apartments. Clambering down the 73ft Ticonderoga’s companionway into the saloon, therefore, served up a contrast that filled yours truly, in particular, with joy. Surprisingly small, but flawlessly proportioned and fitted out in ageless good taste, it carried the day in style.

Meanwhile, Atalante showed what a modern yacht can do with an uncompromising spirit of tradition, while the gutsy 60ft Russamee won hands down in the Arne Frizzell trophy for a seamanlike operation, safe in anything the wind could throw at her.

Ultimately, it was also Russamee taking a concours prize that truly encapsulated the spirit of the classics. Her crew hadn’t intended to enter her because she was salty from the ocean and never conceived to compete with gold-platers. Her decks were rough and ready, her awnings bleached by the sun, but when you noted the mast step, adzed from a massive chunk of tropical hardwood by her Bangkok builders, then moved on to check her frames and scantlings, you knew that here was a boat that would survive. She had soul by the shovel-full, and her people were justly proud of her. Many a fancy yacht show would have discounted her at sight, but not Antigua. This is a land where boats are understood, the sea is all around and the blustering tradewind takes no prisoners.

Out on the water, the four race days provided the anticipated great sailing in hard winds and big seas. Courses were laid so that everyone might be thrilled at the spectacle of the big boats trampling the waves and the little ones somehow cutting a path through. No matter what the boat, the common factor was that all hands got soaked with warm tropical sea then washed off again by heavy squalls that roared through to keep us on the ball. In the evenings, Mount Gay ensured that the rum never faltered and laughter was all around. If you find yourself within a thousand miles of Antigua at the right time next year, ease your sheets and get on down. It may take a week to recover, but the Classics is unique and not to be missed.

For complete details on both this year’s regatta and the upcoming 2019 Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta, visit antiguaclassics.com

Photos by Den Phillips

July 2018

Related

210722_PM_Tokyo20_4910_5979-2048x

Olympic Sailing Guide

The Opening Ceremony for the Tokyo Games is finally here. From July 24 to August 4, sailors from across the world will be gathering on six courses on Enoshima Bay to race for gold. Ten classes will take part in the event: RS:X (men), RS:X (women), Laser Full Rig, Laser Radial, ...read more

01-LEAD-TobagoCaysHorseshoeColors

Chartering: Voltage is King

For some time now, both in the pages of this magazine and with individual charterers, I’ve talked about how important it is to pay close attention during a charter checkout. The idea is to listen “between the lines,” as it were, to be sure you aren’t missing any hidden red flags ...read more

AC75-No.-1

ETNZ May Abandon New Zealand

Remember when the Kiwis were the young, underfunded upstarts of the America’s Cup world, with right on their side as they took on the Big Bad Americans? Remember the withering criticism leveled at Larry Ellison when, in the wake of “The Comeback” on San Francisco Bay, arguably ...read more

01-LEAD-EX26_1119_dehler_30od_race_2nd_077_web_4zu3_300dpi2048x

Boat Review: Dehler 30 One Design

I’ve long believed that while they may not be as much fun, the best sail trials are the ones that take place in drifters since it’s then that a boat’s performance—or lack thereof—really becomes evident. Pretty much any boat is fun to sail in 15 knots of wind. That said, there’s ...read more

01-LEAD-Opener-DJI_0026-2048x

The Multihull Industry’s Major Builders

It’s a given that boatbuilding these days is a global industry, with sailboats going down the ways everywhere from the icy waters of Scandinavia to the South China sea. This includes the manufacture of multihulls—no surprise given their birthplace in the far-flung islands of the ...read more

01-LEAD-IMG_6614

Cruising: BVI Passage

Baking at the helm, watching a newly arrived bird eyeing me suspiciously—as if this was his ship, and I was the one who’d just flown in—I knew I was unraveling. For two days now we’d been becalmed, sails flogging on the open Atlantic, and in a snap moment, I saw—all too ...read more

00-silken_2012-08-19-0145

Cruising: Beetle Cat Sailor Families

When you talk to Beetle Cat sailors, it’s immediately apparent you’re talking about more than just a 12ft 4in catboat. “It began with my great-grandmother, who bought a boat for her four sons in 1928. They named it after her, called it the Queen Mary,” says New England Beetle ...read more

01-LEAD

Cruising: A Lake Superior Circumnavigation

By the time I awoke it was already too late. I knew something was wrong before I’d even fully struggled out of my sleeping bag, before I’d unzipped the tent and was standing out on the wet sand of the beach. In front of me there was only one boat where there should have been ...read more