Published with permission from LuxuryWeb.com
Antigua, known as the “Land of 365 Beaches,” lies in the heart of the Leeward Islands of the Lesser Antilles, a few degrees north of the Equator. Its rich cultural heritage bears the unmistakable mark of the British Empire, to which the country was once affiliated. In April, I had the pleasure of visiting this enchanting island to witness the highly anticipated Antigua Sailing Week — an annual event featuring exhilarating sailboat races along the rugged southern coastline, accompanied by a vibrant and festive atmosphere ashore.
The commencement of Sailing Week was heralded by the resounding blast of a cannon, signaling the start of the competition. Vessels of various sizes and origins converged to vie for the prestigious Lord Nelson Trophy, the ultimate prize awarded at the end of a week filled with intense races, where victory often hinged on mere seconds.
A boating extravaganza
Among the regatta’s most captivating spectacles were the enthralling battles among the 80 to 100-foot single mast boats, crewed by skilled sailors. Some boats undertook arduous voyages across the vast expanses of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans to partake in this event, while other assembled teams hailed from other countries and rented bare-boats from the neighboring islands of Antigua, Guadeloupe, and other Caribbean islands.
Though my competitive sailing days were long past, the allure of a sailing competition was irresistible to someone with the sea coursing through their veins. During my youth, I had honed my skills on the swift Star keelboats and Flying Dutchman sailing dinghies — small but exceptionally fast racing vessels measuring 23 and 20 feet respectively.
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The Star’s remarkable speed and the daring hiking position of its crew and helmsman, who clung to the windward side using harnesses, fascinated me. The Flying Dutchman, even faster than the Star, required me to hang from a trapeze harness attached to the top of the mast, balancing precariously on my tippy-toes while gripping the gunwales. Although the Flying Dutchman made its final Olympic appearance in 1992, it left an indelible impression on the sailing world.
Antigua Sailing Week stands tall among the Caribbean’s most esteemed regattas, attracting over 100 boats each year, divided into various classes ranging from 0 to 8, alongside a multihull class and two bareboat categories. The electrifying experience of witnessing these sailing vessels competing, particularly from the heart of the course, is nothing short of breathtaking. However, this time I played the role of an observer rather than a participant.
The festivities of Sailing Week extended beyond the water, spilling onto the shores and transforming into a grand celebration. Locals and visitors, including the competing crews, came together to revel in an atmosphere of camaraderie, dancing, and libations. Notably, Veuve Clicquot and English Harbour Antigua Rum lent their support, adding to the convivial ambiance. The locals aptly referred to this joyful socializing as “liming.”
Late spring proved to be an ideal time to relish the wonders of Antigua. The temperatures remained pleasant, typically hovering in the 70s °F, while the inviting warmth of the surrounding waters beckoned. Moreover, the island had yet to be overrun by hordes of tourists that would descend upon it once the school year concluded.
The welcoming locals, combined with the exceptionally fresh and flavorful cuisine, particularly the delectable seafood, created a memorable culinary experience. And let us not forget the rum, which could be savored in a delightful assortment of cocktails — rum punch, rum and coke, or any unique concoction crafted by the skilled local mixologists — or enjoyed on its own as a rejuvenating spirit.
Off to the races
Throughout the festivities, I caught glimpses of the competing crews partaking in the revelry. However, most of them exercised caution, departing early in the evening to ensure their clear-headedness for the challenges of the following day’s races. While a “drunken sailor early in the morning” may evoke nostalgic images of 19th-century sea shanties, it would undoubtedly prove disastrous in the realm of competitive sailing, where precision and impeccable timing reign supreme.
Antigua Sailing Week culminated in a grand finale, marked by the highly anticipated Final Awards Ceremony and a spectacular After Party. As someone who used to sail competitively, my days of navigating the seas had come to an end. Nevertheless, the sight of those vibrant, multi-colored spinnakers dancing in the wind stirred something deep within me, causing my heart to skip a beat — a testament to the timeless allure of the sea.
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