SAIL AWAY – Antigua Sailing Week
Nestled between Montserrat and St. Barts in the eastern Caribbean’s Leeward Islands, tranquil and luxuriant Antigua boasts 365 idyllic, largely pristine, reef-lined beaches – one for every day of the year. It also offers some of the Caribbean’s superb sailing conditions, with temperatures of around 80 degrees Fahrenheit year-round and steady easterly breezes blowing at an average of 15 to 18 knots in high season.
Antigua Sailing Week (ASW) was born after a group of charter skippers raced from Antigua to Guadalupe and back in 1964. The objective – immerse themselves in a fun-filled event celebrating a busy charter season. This concept caught the attention of a group of hoteliers who were eager to extend the winter season. The theory – offer a yacht racing event inviting sailors from across the globe to participate and vacationers might be inclined to extend their stay in Antigua to catch the action on the swells of the beautiful blue Caribbean Sea.
By 1968, the Antigua Hotel Association sponsored the inaugural Antigua Sailing Week inviting everyone to the ‘Island for All Seasons.’ Incredible hospitality from the Antiguan Government and the ASW Committee impressed vacationers and sailors alike, with beach and verandah parties to view the racing action coupled with an amazing first-class racing experience for sailors. From the regatta’s modest beginnings featuring only 17 boats from the United States, Canada and the Caribbean, ASW has grown to well over 100 yachts ranging in size from 24-feet to over 100-feet. Bareboats, race charter boats, small cruisers, sports boats, multihulls and performance racing and cruising boats take part in the week-long racing events and festivities while visitors enjoy the spectacle of ASW.
Staging a regatta of this size – one with rich history and worldwide recognition – demands a dedicated team. ASW, a non-profit organization, is organized and directed by two talented women – Kathy Lammers, Chairman of the Regatta Organizing Committee for Antigua Sailing Week and Alison Sly- Adams, Commercial Director for Antigua Sailing Week.
The balance of the team is comprised of hundreds of devoted volunteers from all four corners of the globe including Antigua – judges, race officers and race management teams, to name a few, make up the conglomerate of enthusiastic volunteers. “The professional members of the team are vetted carefully – judges, race officers, etc.,” Lammers explained. “We ask for recommendations and referrals, and we do research on their background because we want to be sure they can deliver the kind of race management we want to be sure we provide…and are proud of.” Sly-Adams added, “We do the same vetting for media. How Sailing Week is covered reflects directly on us and we hold our media partners and all members of the team to the same high standards as the judges and race officers. This platform allows us to showcase the island [Antigua].”
Delivering an extremely well organized and unique regatta is the focal point for Lammers and Sly- Adams, with the dynamic duo splitting responsibilities – Lammers organizing race management and sailors while Sly-Adams directs media coverage, sponsorship procurement and shoreside entertainment.
Antigua Sailing Week celebrated its Golden Edition in 2017, slightly surpassing all other Caribbean regattas in number of boats in attendance. “This year for the 50th Event we had 145 boats,” noted Lammers. “We had boats from 26 countries. United Kingdom is always well represented with close to 19%, Antigua was at 16%, 14% from Germany, 11% from the United States, 5.5% from Switzerland, 3.5% from Canada and then we had representation from Australia, Netherlands, etc. We get some of the hottest race boats in the world, ready to participate and loaded with professional sailors – Olympians, America’s Cup sailors, Corinthian’s – to those who merely enjoy cruising, people who are more interested in enjoying their boats but still love to participate in the regatta for Sailing Week.” The event also sees a large number of bareboaters racing, or those who don’t have the means to get their boat to Antigua to participate. These participants hail from Europe, North America, South America and beyond. “These folks will get their teams together and charter what we call a bareboat, which is basically a boat from a charter fleet that does not have a skipper. Many of the bareboaters have come back for the last 30 years.”
The island of Antigua, although small, holds an illustrious history for visitors to take in while attending ASW. Approximately 300 historical sites dot the island, with many of the fabled locations as part of the festivities – Shirley Heights, English Harbour, Nelson’s Dockyard, and the Antigua Yacht Club to name a few.
“We have such a great historical location,” mentioned Sly-Adams. “It’s the perfect event and platform to showcase what we have on Antigua.” Lammers agreed, “A visit into Nelson’s Dockyard is a must to see the whole Dockyard and the whole national parks area, which kind of goes hand in hand with Sailing Week. A number of our events are held in Nelson’s Dockyard.”
Sly-Adams added, “The great thing about the English Harbour location is we have two major historical spots – Antigua Yacht Club and Nelson’s Dockyard – and then in the middle we have about 25 bars and restaurants for guests to enjoy. There are also vendors in this area, local grocery stores and provisioning companies,BBQ, and cultural dishes so you have this whole really vibrant area where you can walk everywhere and experience the culture, all while taking in the Sailing Week experience. There is something for everyone.”
ONE THING THAT IS REALLY GREAT ABOUT SAILING WEEK IS THE FACT THAT YOU DO GET A MIX OF ISLANDERS, HOLIDAY GOERS AND SAILORS ALL IN ONE PLACE.Alison Sly-Adams
There is no shortage of lively activities for spectators to enjoy, both on and off the water. “One of the greatest ways to experience ASW is being a spectator on the water,” stated Sly-Adams. “We offer an experience called Chase the Race, which takes you on the race course to see some of the action up close – it is really exciting and gives our guests a much better idea of what this event is all about. There are also great spectator events up on Shirley Heights, which provides one of the iconic views of Antigua. That’s where you can see the race starts, so it’s really quite special to experience that.”
Sly-Adams describes the shore-side ambiance surrounding ASW as a “social scene high on camaraderie.” The sailors and their crews come off the sparkling blue waters of the Caribbean ready to share the day’s challenges and successes while they partake in cocktails at the Antigua Yacht Club before grabbing a bite to eat and hitting one of the many concerts and beach parties. “The islanders and vacationers will come out to enjoy the evening festivities, bumping elbows with sailors and their crews,” stated Sly-Adams. “One thing that is really great about Sailing Week is the fact that you do get a mix of islanders, holiday goers and sailors all in one place – it’s truly a melting pot with so much diversity.”
The main attraction during Antigua Sailing Week is the yacht racing events held each day to satisfy the adrenaline rush. “Speed is the most important factor,” explained Lammers.“Every boat is different and has to be measured to receive a rating – much like a golf handicap. The CSA measurement rule determines the estimated speed of various boatsbased on weight, sail area, hull factor design and so on.” The measurement and rating combined are called a ‘time correction factor.’ After the race, the elapsed time it took the boat to complete the course is then multiplied by its rating which gives the corrected race time. The lowest corrected time gets one point, next lowest gets two points, etc. These points are accumulated over the entire week, and whoever has the lowest points when totaled in each class gets first place, next lowest gets second and so on. “Interestingly, you could have an 80-foot boat that goes really fast around the race course, then a 60-foot boat that finishes 20 minutes after him in terms of real time, but the 60-foot boat could end up winning because when we add the time correction factor, he could have the best corrected time,” Lammers noted.
Daily performance is recognized with Daily Prize Givings in each class (1st, 2nd, and 3rd place) at the conclusion of each race day. “If you consistently get first or second place on a daily basis, you will likely be on stage collecting a trophy at the conclusion of the week,” Lammers noted. Sly-Adams added, “At the conclusion of Antigua Sailing Week, we have 50 years’ worth of silverware (trophies) that we give out – it’s a unique tradition and it attracts the biggest show of sailors at an awards presentation. Silverware is presented by the Governor General (Queens representative of Antigua) so everyone turns out to get their prizes for the night – it has a really good feel to it.”
Lammers notes the exhilarating excitement often comes the last day of racing when overall finishing positions are still to be determined. “That’s a very exciting day for the sailors to get out there and have their last opportunity to perform to get the best possible result.”
ASW INTRODUCED CLUB CLASS IN 2017, WHICH IS A PERFECT WAY FOR SAILOR’S WITH LESS EXPERIENCE OR SAILORS WHO ARE LESS SERIOUS ABOUT RACING TO GET IN ON THE ACTION.Kathy Lammers
While some vacationers converge on Antigua for Sailing Week to spectate and soak up the social scene, others flock to the prestigious regatta to partake in the racing action themselves. Race charter boats (head boats) are becoming increasingly popular offering a ‘pay to play’ option. “These boats are owned by an individual or a company and instead of chartering the whole boat to a skipper and crew, they will offer individual spots on the boat, provide a professional skipper and probably one or two professional crew members,” Lammers explained. “Inexperienced people who haven’t sailed much or very little can pay the money, get a spot on the boat and they’re taught along the way. It presents a nice opportunity for less experienced sailors to be introduced to yacht racing and garners more interest – many of these individuals end up quite successful!”
Sly-Adams and Lammers mission remains to ensure the interest in Caribbean sailing continues to flourish. Club Class provides those with sailing interest the opportunity to be part of the action on the water at reduced cost with a progressive handicapping system. Participants are given a Caribbean Sailing Association (CSA) Simplified Rating prior to the first day of racing. At the conclusion of each race, the speed of each boat is calculated relative to all other boats and an adjusted rating is assigned accordingly and expressed as a performance index, on a daily basis. “ASW introduced Club Class in 2017, which is a perfect way for sailors with less experience or sailors who are less serious about racing to get in on the action and familiarize themselves with yacht racing,” Lammers pointed out.
The popularity of Caribbean yacht racing continues to grow and evolve attracting more interest in sailing each season. “We welcomed 145 yachts in 2017 for the Golden Edition,” Lammers continued, “It was a celebration – a milestone year and we couldn’t be more thrilled with the turnout!” ASW holds one of the top three spots for most prestigious regatta in the world… and for good reason – epic yacht racing, a combination of corinthian and professional sailors from all over the world, racing events to accommodate sailors at all levels, spectacular shore side events and culture… and of course, Antiguan hospitality.