Antigua Sailing Week is currently underway and in the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea dozens of highly strung yachts are duking it out. It’s the 49th time that the regatta has been held with a promise that the big 5.0. next year is going to be a bumper event. If you look at the sailing calendar you will see that there is no shortage of Caribbean regattas from the Les Voiles de St. Barth which just ended, to the BVI Regatta a few weeks ago, but it was Antigua Sailing week that started it all and changed the area from a cruisers paradise to a racers dream.
My first Antigua was in 1979. I was a snot nosed African kid thrilled by the wet T-shirt contests and in awe of some of the more modern racing boats that had come over from Europe for the regatta. I jumped a berth on Battlecry, a Swan 55, and felt like I had landed in a small slice of heaven. Back then the regatta was a more humble affair, a mix between classic cruisers and some new racing boats. The cruisers have since split off to become the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta and the racing division now attracts some of the best boats (and sailors) in the world.
The event was started, as these things often are, by a bunch of sailors sitting around in a bar wondering how they could extend the winter season in the Caribbean. They figured a regatta would bring people in at time when the season was pretty much over so in 1968 the Antigua Hotel Association sponsored the very first Antigua Sailing Week. Actually the race program called it “a week of sailing, fishing and entertainment in the Caribbean”. I don’t think that they had any idea how successful the event would become and how much it would change the whole Caribbean sailing scene.
When I was there in 1979 the area was called the West Indies and we sailed through the Spice Islands. It was exotic and for a fresh faced kid, an awesome experience. I have recently returned from those waters and it’s no longer a remote cruising ground for hardened escapists; it’s the playground of the rich and famous as well as the extraordinarily rich who flout their wealth with obscene super yachts that spell gluttony and not much else. I guess it’s called progress but I preferred it back when the area was a sleepy backwater and you could bump into Jimmy Buffett in a bar eating a cheeseburger.
Antigua Sailing Week provides some of the best sailing conditions of any regatta in the world. The winter trades, which blow consistently hard, are over replaced by more pleasant sailing conditions. Some say that the weather has changed so much in recent years that flat calm days are becoming the norm, but most of my Antigua experiences have been a steady 15-20 knots out of the east with warm water, smoking hot girls and cold beer. It’s hard not to like the place.
Brian Hancock has lots to say. Check out his blog.