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

m123728_13_01_171012_PMA_02901_9999

Alicante Announced as an Ocean Race Europe Stop

The Ocean Race Europe, a new event in offshore sailing, will include Alicante as one of four stopover cities. This European offshoot of the former Volvo Ocean Race will include the biggest change to the racing rules under the new title—fully crewed IMOCA 60s will join the ...read more

01-LEAD-doublehanded2

Preparing for a Doublehanded Race

A few months ago we took a look at the development and attraction of doublehanded racing (Two to Tango, June/July 2020). Hopefully, that served to whet your appetite. If so, the question becomes: “How do I get started? The good news, as we explained in Part 1, is that if you are ...read more

01-LEAD-Day-three---dolphins.-300-dpi

A Key Approach to Passagemaking

How you approach offshore sailing is key to the success of each passage. In addition, some of the most valuable, even crucial attitudes and skills may not be either learned or valued in everyday life on shore and may even fly in the face of talents that are greatly admired and ...read more

OceanVoyagesInstitute-2048

Point of SAIL: Mary Crowley of the Ocean Voyages Institute

In this episode of Point of SAIL, Principal Editor Adam Cort talks with Mary Crowley, founder and executive director of the Ocean Voyages Institute, a not-for-profit based in California that has been both educating sailors and working to preserve the health of the world’s ocean ...read more

01-Ocean-Voyages-Institute_PHOTO-READY_1_pg

Tracking and Catching Plastic Waste

Plastic waste—in the form of everything from plastic soda bottles to abandoned fishing nets—constitutes a major threat to the health of the world’s oceans. Giving the immense size of an ocean, though, actually finding all the plastic floating around out there in a time-efficient ...read more

Dreramcatcher -Cate Brown

Marblehead to Halifax Canceled; Alternative Races Planned

The Marblehead to Halifax race that was scheduled for this summer has been canceled due to continuing Covid concerns. Organizers at the Boston Yacht Club and Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron who co-sponsor the event have made the decision because of uncertainty about when the ...read more

SailGP-Team

SailGP Announces Roster and Coach Additions

Athletes Daniela Moroz, CJ Perez and Paul Campbell-James have been added to The United States’ SailGP lineup. Also joining the team will be head coach Philippe Presti. Moroz is a four-time Formula Kite World Champion and two-time U.S. Sailing Rolex Yachtswoman-of-the-Year. ...read more

NEW-westcoastmultihullsmob

Chartering the West Coast

Although two-thirds of the U.S. boating population lives along the Eastern Seaboard, there are many hardy and enthusiastic cruising sailors on the “left coast” as well. Better still, if you’re looking to charter on the Pacific side, there’s plenty of great sailing and many clubs ...read more