The Antigua Classics Regatta: above all other events, this was the one I had wanted to make. A week of the world's most beautiful yachts, racing close offshore, combined with a buzzing atmosphere - I couldn’t wait.
We arrived on the second day of racing, the weather humid, wet and gusting to 30 knots. Most of the classics moor in Falmouth, but we watched the few moored near us in English Harbour up-anchor and head out into the rain, heeled well over. Later, we went ashore to clear in; a convoluted process with the usual grumpiness from the officials (and, in Antigua, more expensive than elsewhere, including daily fees for anchoring). The place seemed much the same as it had 14 years before, apart from the addition of a large super yacht dock in a corner of the harbour, removing some of the anchoring space.
|Kate, a replica of a 1909 America's cup yacht, heads out into the squalls.|
The weather clearing slightly, we walked across to Falmouth Harbour - just half an hour away - to see the yachts returning from the race. There was activity everywhere as they docked, crews calling good-naturedly to each other across the pontoons. Two boats at least had lost masts, including the Alfred Mylne yawl Blue Peter. Her crew looked understandably downcast, and she earned a round of applause as her lines were thrown ashore. (Coincidentally, I was on a sailing course with her owner and skipper many years ago, just before he took extremely early retirement from a not entirely unlucrative city trading job. But it didn’t seem the moment to say hello).
|Blue Peter returns from racing on Day 2...|
We wandered the pontoons for some time, taking photographs, and saying hello to a couple on board a boat we recognised from the Saintes. Over everything towered the silver masts of Maltese Falcon, not unimpressive at 289 feet, but horribly ugly nonetheless. Our gaze was drawn much more by the svelte, sweeping lines of perfect varnish and teak decking of the real classics, many with famous names.
|Spirited Lady of Fowey returns. The same class of boat seen in the Bond film Casino Royale.|
I chatted to the owner of Troubadour, the yacht I’d photographed sailing off Guadeloupe, and gave him my memory card to copy the pictures from. I had hoped he might have room for an extra crew member, but it was not to be. In ’99 I had raced here on board Arita, a 48’ John Alden owned by the charismatic South African Rob DeHaan - a real sailor in every respect - and it remains one of the most memorable experiences of my life.
|Hard on the wind on board Arita, Antigua Classics, 1999|
The evening before we had watched a Hallberg Rassy 42 motor into the harbour. Her name was Trompeta and she had been here in Antigua exactly 14 years ago, my younger self on board. Later, in 2003, I went on to join her retired owner, John Arregger, on a trip across the South Pacific, as he continued his circumnavigation.
She was moored on the wall in Nelson’s Dockyard and we went over to say hello to the owners, who had just completed the World ARC rally (a tightly scheduled dash around the world in 15 months - why?). They had bought Trompeta from John Arreger just before his death, but never met him. Sadly, I had not been in touch for some years, but I believe he continued on to Australia and the Indian Ocean before he had to give up for health reasons, the boat being delivered back to the UK. I wondered where the other people I’d met then were now…We had a happy few days in English Harbour. Limbo was perfectly placed for the parade of sail. Cheering mingled with bagpipes and cannon fire!
|Nelson's Dockyard in 1999 - much the same as today! In the background is Irene, a west country trading schooner. She lost her mizzen mast in that year's races.|
|The parade of sail.|
|The view from Limbo.|
We were delighted to see Christian, of the 70 foot Alina from Madeira, who arrived on a delivery trip. We'd seen him last in Cape Verde, crewing on a friend's yacht. We were delighted to hear him call over to us, and dinghied over to him later on, but sadly he soon had to fly off for another charter delivery. Friends are quickly made in this kind of life, but goodbyes are frequent.
|Classics from the cliffs|
|Watching the gig races.|
|Gig racing, English Harbour layday|
|Shirley Heights sunset. Limbo just visible!|
We left on my birthday after refuelling at Antigua Slipway. This was where I’d lived on board La Cautiva, a 78 foot steel ketch, while prepping her for the voyage back to England. I have more than a few good memories of that square mile or so of English Harbour.
|With the crew of La Cautiva, English Harbour, 1999. About to depart for the Azores.|
|Limbo and Natalie, in the same spot, 2013.|