This month, in brief… Well, it started a year ago, when i had been in Antigua on delivery just a few days before Classic, and had gone back to Tortola without seeing a bit of it. Ever since i learned of what i had missed, i had vowed not to miss it again!
The next part of the fun was the late addition of a new friend to the general mayhem. About 6 weeks ago, my friend Stacey had gotten here to take up a job i’d arranged for her. She, in turn, had e-introduced me to another friend of hers, Jenn, who sounded very keen to find out more about this whole sailing thing. Her own schedule was pretty tight, but i convinced her to somehow fly down and come to Classic with a few of us West Endians.
It was a comedy of errors actually getting averything to work, logistics-wise. i had originally planned to both sail down and raceaboard Simba, my friend Paul’s ’63 Cheoy Lee Lion. However, Paul felt he needed to leave Tortola before Jenn was due to arrive in St. Thomas, so i had to find another ride for us. Less than a week before the departure, i thought i had it figured out, but… A call at work from Val precipitated a whole new mess. “Yeah, Yuri, have you heard from Watson? He double-booked, and he can’t take you with him to Antigua… and by the way, can you escape from West End this afternoon? I need crew for a daysail…”
Well, that was one plan out the window. Paul got back in from San Diego, and i presented the problem to him… He hmmmed and hawed, and decided that he still couldn’t wait to leave as late as Jenn was getting in. Moreover, as it turned out, i was actually the only crew he had sailing down, and would be stuck singlehanding. The next day (the day before Jenn was to start her labourious 36-hour journey down here), Paul and i muttered and fussed, and i made a few calls. On Paul’s suggestion, i booked a ticket for Jenn from St. Thomas to St. Maarten, so we could sail early, and pick her up at the halfway mark.
Not half an hour later, Charlie shows up in the yard, looking fretful. Having won in two divisions last year, he was keen to return to Classic, but his crew had run into work problems and been forced to drop out in the 11th hour! But before i even heard about this myself, Paul and Charlie had come to an agreement: i would sail with Charlie on his Rhodes “Lydia” to St. Maarten, in close company with Paul who would singlehand. If Jenn was delayed, Mitsi and Al offered to pick her up (as their boat was to be in St. Maaten a day longer than we). Unlike Lydia, Simba is set up for single-handing, with windvane steering and such. So, just 9 hours later, we cleared out bound for St. Maarten, hammering away on what would become a 32-hour pound to windward.
We got into St. Maarten in the evening, and i scarcely had time to catch my wits before taking the dinghy in and grabbing a cab to the airport to meet Jenn, who, i might add, i had never met before.
The next day, End Of The Day showed up in the harbour, with Al, Mitsi, and a handful of other West Endians aboard. (An aside – for those of you who follow such things, Al is Al Souza, Brad’s father…). We rented a couple cars and left Sint Maarten (the Dutch side) for Saint Martin (the French side). It was really just like being transported to the French Med! Great little European-feeling towns and streets, fantastic baguettes and croissants, great cafes… the whole mob of us spent the day in total tourist mode. Of course, there was the requisite trip to Budget Marine, where the fellas would drool and grunt while the ladies planned the afternoon. i picked up all the little blocks and hardware needed for my new dinghy (30% off on Al’s account!).
That night, just after sunset, Lydia and Simba got ready to set out. Jenn sailed on Simba, and i continued onwards aboard Lydia. After a few last-minute delays (running light issues) we set off into the night. This leg was a little shorter, tending more south than west, and we got into Jolly Harbour, Antigua, an couple hours after sunset. The next morning, we had a great thumping sail around the corner to Falmouth harbour, short-tacking up inside the reef, racing along. Setting the hook in the little bay, we waved and called to the other West Endians who had preceded us, and stared at the grand assemblage of classic yachts arrayed around us.
The first day there was taken up with getting settled, checking into customs, getting showers, and a little limited touristing. A 15-minute walk from Falmouth is English Harbour, and the site of “Nelson’s Dockyard”, a partially-restored 1700’s British Naval service depot, where Nelson was stationed as a young captain. Many of the restored buildings now house touristy endevours, but the flavour of the place is still very much period! Another short walk away is the orginal late 1600’s rain catchment and cistern; along the walls, build of soft limestone, British sailors would carve their names and dates as they waited for their water barrels to be filled. We saw, in beautiful and archaic script, names and dates as far back as 1736! Paul told me that in the years he’s been coming to Antigua, he’s seen much decay; the soft limestone isn’t standing up all that well after 350 years!
The next day was the day of the singlehanded races. On Jenn’s suggestion, we rented a scooter (a “MyBuBu 100” model), and set out to tour the island. In the end, there wasn’t much we didn’t get to see! Rainforested areas, farms, beaches, old lava tubes… We included a trip into the old colonial capital, where the highlight was a visit to the Anglican Cathedral there. Built to withstand earthquakes, it is a “church within a church”, a stone structure built around a massive wooden one. The surrounding graveyard had markers dating back into the mid-1600’s. At the end of our day, we got back south, and drove up up up the hill to Shirley Heights (overlooking the Dockyard), the site of the British Army Garrison that guarded English Harbour for nearly 100 years.
Back down at the marina and yacht club, i spent my evening touring the docks, staring at the beautiful boats. One great highlight was passing by Bolero, and having Marty pop up a hatch and call out, “Yuri! Good to see you! Come aboard, come aboard!” i ended up spending many of my evenings in Falmouth aboard Bolero, enjoying the company and the famous yacht. One evening aboard Bolero, i hung with Don Street (the grandfather of Caribbean cruising); just two sailors, happy to be there. It was something else… down the dock from L. Francis Herreshoff’s (my favourite designer) classic, original, and penultimate yacht, Ticonderoga, across the dock from the staggeringly beautiful and historic Velsheda, sitting in the cockpit of one of the 5 most impressive and competitive classic ocean-racing yachts of all time, trading sea-stories with one of my favourite nautical authors.
Bolero won the Classic overall last year, but this year the owner wasn’t feeling competative; he wanted to just enjoy the scene! When they did decide to race (two of the three major races), i was incredibly flattered when marty and Denise tracked me down to ask me to crew for them. Here i had been telling Jenn (who, at that time, was off on beach or somewhere) that you have to make your own opportunities, and that nobody is likely to come asking you to crew, and then Bolero comes to ask for me! i’m pretty sure i blushed, and Denise got a good laugh out of my stammered reply. It made me think back to a time on Duen when i said to Mike, “All i’d really like to get to is the point where folks think of me as beeing ‘handy on boats’…”
i continued on as racing crew with Simba, however, enjoying every minute of it. The race days were just incredible; as Marty on Ruffian pointed out, “Win or lose, just being here is worth the cost of admission…”. Every race was like a 4-5 hour parade of glorious sail, featuring many of the world’s most impressive, beautiful, and famous yachts, gathered there from home ports around the globe for one wild week.
There were other great modern yachts in the harbour too; some to watch the Classic, and others there awaiting the following week, Antigua Race Week, for modern designs. Wandering around with Jenn (tall, beautiful, and beguiling) was pretty entertaining. She captured a whole table of guys one evening, one of which invited us back for a couple drinks on the boat he worked on…
“What’s your boat called?” asked Jenn.
“Oh, just a little thing called Scheherazade”. Ha! Like any diligent boat-geek, i knew of the beast; the largest and finest sailing yacht ever built in America, a Bruce King-designed, 30+ million dollar, 154-ft, cold-molded wooden beauty. Naturally, we got the complete tour, boggling at the scale, and at all the details, like the hundreds and hundreds of hand-carved shells and starfish that are set into the mouldings and trim.
I was invited onto a couple other great boats for tours, potlucks, ar bawdy singalongs; Ibis, a 100+ yr old oyster smack from Kent, and the beautiful 1895 Bristol Channel Pilot Cutter, Margeurite. Everywhere was beauty!
Overall, Antigua Classic is a “must do” event, and i certianly plan to go next year! Wrapping up this year’s trip? Well, remember that daysail with Val? Another call from her a day later had me on her delivery crew for a Swan 57 up to Annapolis. So, after a quick last-minute flight back to Tortola (having to pass on three other offers to Venezuela, Dominica, and Bermuda; Classic is a great place to find a ride!), and a single night in my own bed, it was off into the Atlantic for 10 days offshore… but that’s another story.