By Kent E St John
It is as if an armada has set sail from tiny English Harbour—interspaced with English and Spanish flags are many others from around the world.
Last night as I wandered around I counted 13 languages flowing as fast as the sleekest sailboat and many restaurant servers as knowledgeable about possible hazards as the captains are about reefs.
It’s Antigua Sailing Week, an event that holds a proud spot in the calendar yearly sailing events. In fact this is the 45th Antigua Sailing Week and over 100 boats have entered.
Crews have been flown in, and yachts rented; some sailed following the racing circuit and they range from 26.25 ft. to the largest at 115 ft. captained or owned by such greats as Sir Hugh Bailey, Peter Harrison, and adventurer Mariacristina Rapisard.
Flags from 20 nations flap in the wind and sailors from novice to Olympic stars fill the vessels. Every day a new race begins, not easy after the nighttime events. Even if not racing, Antigua Sailing Week isn’t for the faint-hearted, but for those who live life to the fullest.
Yes Sir Captain
Boat shoes? Check. Hat? Check. Perhaps, more importantly, a well-filled stomach? Check. On the third day of the races we finally board our 41 footer to follow the racers by water. Our Captain looks as young as a school boy but his hands like that of a sixty year old contractor, proof of years of hauling lines and steering against wind.
The very young first mate starts the process of raising sails and all are invited to join in. Nervous giggles erupt as we all admit to being a very novice crew; the captain gives a wry smile and we head out of English Harbour.
While the races can be seen from shore at least one day should be spent aboard a sailing boat to catch the feel of racing. On Deck, the company I used has boats going out every day of the races and full or half day is offered.
You should be aware though that it isn’t a day of leisurely sailing you will be doing. Facilities aboard do make it comfortable and below deck is good for getting out of the wind and waves.
Above, join in and experience the thrill of racing—the action is real.It isn’t hard to know when you leave the Harbour; the nine-foot swells are clue one. As my side of the boat rises I catch sight of the Escaped Aussies, Billy Budd, and Aita Pea Pea, all poised like steeds at the starting gate. Soon the horn blows and it is indeed off to the races time.
Mad Dogs and Englishmen
English Harbour is a small but beautiful town to explore or to make a base for the bounty of events Sailing Week brings. The town and much of the surrounding area is all National Park and part of Nelson’s Dockyard, named after Admiral Horatio Nelson who served there while a captain in the British Navy.
The dockyards is the only Georgian such structure around today. It is now home to the Antigua Yacht Marina. During Sailing Week it is where most of the nightly entertainment and events run.
A perfect venue for the sailing soirees. One might wonder how much his lordship would appreciate Ky-mani Marley’s show but I for one enjoyed Bob’s son’s show set right up against the docked racers.
The town also has various restaurants and bars but on this week stands are set up everywhere serving fresh island catch spiced up. Antigua is special any time of the year, so I took a day off from the racing events to do some special events of my own.
My favorite event was a short boat ride out to Stingray City to swim among and feed that stealth like residents of the sea, stingrays. These huge creatures are uncaged and swim to the area for one reason, food. They glide right up to you and slurp down the fish parts you feed them.
While toothless, their sheer size and look will shiver your timbers for sure. Another good option is to head to the beach at Pigeon Point to sample fresh grilled lobster served from any of the stalls set up there. Acting somewhat like a stingray I downed a few. In between the many events during the week I could be found at perhaps my favorite place on the Island, The Inn at English Harbour.
Fit for a Prince
From the moment I pulled up to the Inn at English Harbour, I fell in love. Some hotels just have IT, and this place oozes charm. The main lobby is in an old stone building with wonderful views down to the Harbor and the hotel’s beach.
The colonial style rooms gave it a distinct charm. There are only 28 rooms so privacy and peacefulness are part of the Inn’s style. My day usually started on my veranda with a coffee and the sound of the water.
Pre-sailing weeknight activities often began in the Inn’s classic bar and on the beautiful outside patio/ dining room veranda. From high on the hills the sounds of music and gaiety from the town reached out to us.
The lights would soon twinkle as the Caribbean sunset. It wasn’t hard to see why Prince Albert of Monaco is just one of the celeb set to visit this wonderful hideaway.
The Sailing Week in Antigua is one of the most popular and best-planned regattas in the world so there is no doubt that it will continue to flourish in the future. In fact dates have already been picked for the next five years. One does not need to be a captain or even a crewmember to enjoy such an event.
I’ve always found the Caribbean beautiful, the islands and sea are why. Being here though, at this time, gives a visitor something more… tradition, a sailing tradition. A chance to celebrate a different more sporty lifestyle.
Sailing Week also opens doors to a passion that is worldwide in a place that matches its unique lifestyle with an island that holds its own treasures and delights. This is a week that is unmatched by the pairing of offerings, a perfect blend.
One not need be a wealthy yacht owner to fit; a pair of Docksiders and tee shirt can make one feel at home. Many of the events are open to all, a rarity these days. History opens doors to adventure, and good times fill the days. Better times anywhere would be hard to match.
Sail on sailor!
English Harbour is small but jam-packed with plenty to see and do, for those not into sailing let the restaurants, shops and bars fill the time, like Nelson’s Dockyard. For information about next year’s regatta and winners of this past year visit the official race week website.
The Inn at English Harbour is one of the best places to stay in all the Caribbean Islands. It is a hideaway that you may not want to share.
Kent St. John was GoNOMAD’s Senior Travel Editor since the website was founded in 2000. During that time he circled the globe many times, visiting more than 80 countries. Sadly, he passed away on Thanksgiving Day in 2012. He had an appreciation of subtleties, always finding a way to capture the nuances and essences of a destination, whether he was whale-watching in Nova Scotia, riding the rails in Australia, bungee jumping in China or worshipping the sun on a beach in Brazil.