By Sheryl Shard, copyright 2016. All rights reserved.
The Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta (ACYR), held every April in the Caribbean island of Antigua, is an event that, for many years, Paul and I have been hoping to attend. This year we made it happen, sailing down from the British Virgin Islands (see previous newsletter), for the 29th annual ACYR.
Every year in April between 50 and 60 yachts participate in the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta including traditional craft from the islands, classic ketches, sloops, schooners and yawls, together with beautiful modern yachts built in the Spirit of Tradition, occasionally J Class yachts and a few Tall Ships.
Based in Falmouth Harbour at the Antigua Yacht Club Marina, headquarters for the ACYR with many after-race parties held at the historic Nelson’s Dockyard in English Harbour, you feel as if you have travelled back in time seeing all these period yachts arriving and departing to sail as a spectacular fleet around the daily race courses.
Carriacou yachts are traditional island sloops and have a class of their own in the regatta. These boats, once used as island traders, are still built in the Grenadian island of Carriacou.
One of the after-race events this year was an outdoor screening at Nelson’s Dockyard of the award-winning documentary “Vanishing Sail” about one of the last boat builders of Carriacou yachts. (The film has since inspired his sons to continue the tradition.) Watching this beautiful film under the stars amongst the old barracks and workshops of the former British Naval Base for the West Indies built in the 1700’s with the standing-room-only crowd of classic and traditional yacht sailors was a moving experience. The film will soon be available on DVD through the Vanishing Sail website where you can view the trailer.
We were fortunate to get a spot at the quay in Nelson’s Dockyard for the week of the regatta.
Nelson’s Dockyard Marina is just a 10-minute walk to Falmouth Harbour and the Antigua Yacht Club Marina from there where all the yachts participating were based for the duration of the regatta.
Having the yachts berthed all together in one place at the Antigua Yacht Club Marina created a convivial atmosphere and made it easy to dock-walk to view these floating works of art. It was also a great way to meet the special people that sail them and care for them.
Before we went out to film the races and events each day for the Distant Shores sailing TV series, Paul and I would get up early to enjoy morning walks along the forested trails around English Harbour and through ruins of the old fortress. Good spots to watch the races from if you are shorebound.
One morning we had a close-up encounter with a young mongoose.
Tropical showers brought out colourful flowers that bloomed brightly along the trails and hillsides overlooking the sea.
Working with other marine photographers and videographers on the press boat at events such as the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta is always a special time for us since, not only do we love the events we’re documenting for the Distant Shores sailing TV series, it’s a great time to catch up with fellow marine journalists and partners in the marine industry who sponsor the regatta.
The wind was generally light during this year’s ACYR which was unfortunate for participants but nice for spectators since it meant that all the yachts were flying maximum sails creating a sight to behold.
The Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta marks the end of the Caribbean sailing season for many of these beautiful yachts and several were preparing to cross the Atlantic Ocean following the regatta to sail and/or charter in the Mediterranean for the summer months. If you’re curious about what it’s like to sail in the Med check out the Distant Shores TV YouTube Channel where we’ve posted full 30-minute episodes from season 1 and 2 of Distant Shores about sailing in the Mediterranean.
During the regatta, Paul also spent a day sailing aboard the lovely schooner S/V Heron, built, owned, and captained by Bonnie Schmidt and Nigel Bower. You can buy a berth by on this fine vessel to sail on various legs from the New England coast all the way south to the Grenadines. Paul interviewed some of the charter guests aboard S/V Heron who were living their dream to sail aboard a classic yacht in the tropics, including journalists from WoodenBoat, a magazine for wooden boat owners, builders and designers.
Schooner S/V Heron
When we first arrived in Antigua for the start of the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta we were pleasantly surprised to find that many long-time cruising friends, who we have shared anchorages with over the years, come each year to crew aboard these classic yachts or to work as volunteers to keep the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta running smoothly. Even if you aren’t racing there are lots of ways to get involved as volunteers and it is such a good time!
Attending the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta became quite a social occasion for us as we got caught up with friends and colleagues we hadn’t seen for a while, danced to the great bands in the evenings and, of course, shared a drink or two after a day of filming. Every afternoon there was free Mount Gay Rum Tasting along with other events such as cocktail making contests, BBQ’s and daily prize-giving.
The last day was especially fun with Gig Races at English Harbour. A gig is a small rowboat or sailing boat generally used to taxi the ship’s captain ashore.
This was followed by a Cream Tea at the Admiral’s Inn, Nelson’s Dockyard. It was a great opportunity for me to wear the hat my British sailing friend, Elizabeth Pattison, made for me. You meet Elizabeth in the Chichester Harbour episode of Distant Shores in season 7, episode 1.
As the ACYR website says, “The sailing combined with Antiguan hospitality, plenty of rum, sunshine, and great camaraderie in a friendly relaxed atmosphere, places the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta, in a class of its own.”
Next year the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta celebrates its 30th anniversary so be sure to mark your calendar. It will be held April 19-25, 2017.
Sheryl and Paul Shard have now been cruising internationally for 25 years. They are sailing authors, instructors/consultants and the fun-loving hosts of the Distant Shores sailing adventure TV series (AWE TV, Nautical Channel, Vimeo on Demand). The Distant Shores series profiles the world's best sailing destinations and provides insights into the joys and challenges of living aboard a cruising sailboat. The shows are also available on DVD and as HD downloads.