Saturday, April 23rd, 2011
On the morning of April 15th, 2011 Antigua came into view. As it always is after spending a month at sea, it was surreal to see a tropical and mountainous island reaching out of the ocean to touch the clouds. They mountain peaks and idyllic covers seemed to beckon to us – calling us to come and partake and enjoy. The whole scene was made even more surreal by the fact that we were sailing into Antigua during their annual Classic Regatta. The waters surrounding the island were filled with traditional sailing craft and boats with sails of all shapes, sizes and colours. It was an international affair. They tacked and gibed and weaved their way to the starting line, all vying for the most advantageous position, all vying for the wind and the win. We on the otherhand were a 180 foot long steel square-rigged sailing ship under full sail carrying studding sails.
The crew lined up on the pin-rails in appreciation, listening as the radio announced the commencement of the races. The Captain and the Mates kept an ever-watchful eye on the boats as we sailed toward our anchorage in Falmouth Harbour. With all sails set, including stuns’ls, we were no doubt a distracting display for the racers and the photographer alike. To add to the spectacle we launched the long boat a couple miles off and let her sail in on her own canvas. We carried our stunsls up until within a mile of the coast, then we took those in, hove too, shortened down, then braced up again and sailed right up to the anchorage without using the motor at all. A good way to end a long passage!
Antigua is part of the island group known as the Leeward Islands of the Lesser Antilles in the northern half of the Eastern Caribbean. Long inhabited by Sibony and the Arawak Indians the island eventually fell into the hands of Colonial Britain. It remained a British colony and sugar exporter until it gained its independence in 1981. With little industry Antigua relies mostly on tourism and has been working hard to attract visitors. The Classic Regatta this year brought in over 60 classic boats which participated in the five days of races. This number does not, of course, account for the hundreds of charter boats and cruising yachts which speckled the harbours, beaches and restaurants with enthusiasts and Eastern Caribbean notes.
And then there was us. We had been invited to the Regatta as honoured guests and why not? While the Picton Castle is not a racing ship by any means, who wouldn’t want a tall ship in their harbour? The ship was here for the Regatta two years ago and had made such an impression that they wanted us back. The Captain encouraged the crew to take advantage of the opportunity right in front of us and try to sail in the races as crew on other boats.
And there were some beauties. The crew was abnormally quite as we rode into shore on the skiff. We motored past schooners, ketches, sloops, cutters, J-boats, yawls, the Maltese Falcon (the fastest square-rigger in the world and all automatic). Multi-million dollar J-boats were tied up alongside sail-training ships and old and beautiful Carriacou sloops. As we got out of the skiff and stretched our legs on land for the first time in over a month, we glanced around at the busy marina. The patio seating was overflowing with men and women, still dressed in their crew shirts, talking excitedly about the results of the day’s races. The feeling in the wind was one of elation with an undercurrent of friendly competition. Everyone on the waterfront was here for the love of sailing ships, boats, racing and good times.