Antigua’s Sailing Week Regatta

Under way during the regatta in Antigua.
Underway during the regatta in Antigua.

Sailing in the Center of the Sport in the Caribbean

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 was the 45th Antigua Sailing Week and over 100 boats entered.

Crews were 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.

A yacht coming hard at the author during Antigua's Race Week. Photos by Kent E. St. John.
A yacht coming hard at the author during Antigua’s Race Week. Photos by Kent E. St. John.

Flags from 20 nations flapped in the wind and sailors from novice to Olympic stars filled the vessels. Every day a new race began 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 footers to follow the racers by water.

Our Captain looked as young as a schoolboy but his hands like that of a sixty-year-old contractor, proof of years of hauling lines and steering against the wind.

The very young first mate started the process of raising sails and all were invited to join in. Nervous giggles erupted as we all admitted to being a very novice crew; the captain gave a wry smile and we headed 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.

Thrill of Racing

Kent and a gentle stingray on Antigua.
Kent and a gentle stingray on Antigua.

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.

Room at the Inn at English Harbour.
Room at the Inn at English Harbour.

The dockyards are 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.

Fresh Fish Stands
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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.

Pigeon Beach snack shacks await the hungry racing fans on Antiqua.
Pigeon Beach snack shacks await the hungry racing fans on Antiqua.

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.

Sailing Away

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.

A pep talk from the captain before the race.
A pep talk from the captain before the race.

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.

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