#15 Woodwork and Racing in Antigua

Shortly after arriving in Antigua, I abused my contacts in the industry and arranged to do some woodwork with a local boatbuilders.

It was a pleasure to get my planes and chisels sharp and keen again, and use their workshop and bench tools. I bodged in a new stem and a new transom into a 1940s racing sloop, and relished coming home covered in sawdust and epoxy, after months of little real work.

New stem and caprail fitted

Elin spent some time helping out at a local stables, looking after horses and tourists, and taking both riding and swimming on local beaches.

I had never ridden a horse before but I went with them one day. Trotting proves to be a most uncomfortable activity, but galloping is quite fun, if a little precarious. When we swam with the horses, mine was certainly not very keen on the idea. We had a bit of a wrestle, and she gleefully rolled me off into the waves. Eventually, though, we came to a mutual understand that if we could just get it over with, without a fuss, we could get on with the more important matters of eating grass and pooing everywhere.

on a horse! in the sea! on a horse in the sea!
Yes. That is a turtle who has come by choice to play with a puppy. Brilliant.

The boat remained anchored off Pigeon beach for a while, and we swam in the mornings and evenings and sailed around the harbour at weekends. It’s nice to stay in one place for a while and have friends that aren’t planning to hoist anchor the next day.

Falmouth and English Harbour are funny places to hang out. The division between rich and poor, local and foreigner, and, often, black and white, is huge, obvious, and disturbing. Rows of makeshift shacks sit in the shadows of multi-million dollar superyachts, while white crews sit around in their linen shirts drinking G&Ts on deck and locals varnish their cap rails.

Having said that, the super wealthy yacht owners don’t really show up much, and so the vast majority of foreign sailors are young crew who are just out to have an adventure, trying to make a bit of cash while sailing around the world. There is in fact a lot of interaction with local people, and the yachting industry does bring in huge amounts of money into the country. Plenty of Antiguans who got lucky have found permanent positions on yachts and sailed far and wide… So is the situation as polarised and messed-up as it seems at first glance? I don’t know – it’s far too complex for me to get my little head around, and so I just keep trying not to step on anybody’s toes.

A bit of bottom paint and an angry German

After a couple of weeks in Antigua, I went home to be at my grandmothers memorial. It was bizarre to reverse my voyage and squeeze it into several hours, but it was well worth it to see all my family in one place and have a party for Lorema (the boat was named after her). Whilst there, I found out that we have distant relations in Antigua, who in fact live on Pigeon point, overlooking my boat. When I got back I contacted Lisa and Nancy, and we got to know them over the subsequent weeks. They were wonderfully kind to us, and we stayed for a while up at their beautiful place on the point, overlooking the whole harbour from the shade, surrounded by Nancy’s pottery and the resident dogs and lizards.

while visiting home, I found this – my first ever boat! Wooden, of course, and built by my Mum and/or Dad
Back on island
The hexagonal house on the hill
with resident woofers

Meanwhile, Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta came around. The harbour was full of boats of all shapes and sizes, mostly wooden (or pretending to be), all covered in varnish and bronze and teak, with their crews out on deck polishing and painting in preparation for what is one of the most important classic yacht events in the world.

We entered Lorema in the races, and kicked off the week by winning a special mention from the jury for the ‘Concourse d’elegance’ trophy. I don’t really know what this means, but they gave us a plaque.

The regatta consisted of four days of racing, plus all the usual free food and open bars and even a very posh owners party.

losing my hat. Photo, Tim Wright
serious race crew! Photo, Tim Wright
Sailing with ‘Sally B’ – built by Ashley Butler and helmed here by Nick Skeates. Photo, Tim Wright

The racing itself was great – an average of 20knots of wind and moderate seas meant wet work on a small boat, but it was amazing to be on the same course as the J-class Rainbow, and the enormous Gaff Schooner Elena, as well as many other beautiful and impressive vessels. The course was too long for us really, and I was quite shocked to find that we were winning our class after the first day, and just a tiny bit annoyed – “does that mean we have to go and get wet again tomorrow?” – but after the second day, I started feeling the competition and we worked harder on line tactics and sail trim. We even shook out our reef for the downwind legs, but we certainly needed it again when beating.

Lorema sailing in the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta, Old Road Race. Photo, copyright Cory Silken

The big boats were kind to us, and most passed us on the leeward side to spare us their huge wind shadows. However, we did once get stuck behind the tall ship Picton Castle, before coming up round her stern and overtaking her on the windward side – I don’t think that our own wind shadow would have bothered her too much.

playing with the big girls

Elin realised that she does in fact quite like sailing sometimes, and I discovered that Lorema actually moves quite well when several hundred kilos of cruising gear has been left ashore. Lots of our friends who we had met on the way from Europe or here on Antigua were racing, so there was much waving and shouting and only occasional swearing.

By the end we were well known as “that couple from that tiny boat”, not least because I had to do some challenging backwards sculling every day to get into our berth – right in front of a very popular bar. This proved to be great entertainment for everybody.

Finally, we somehow came away with 1st place vintage class C, smallest boat trophy, and some kind of young skippers award, as well as out Concourse d’Elegance prize. We were most pleased, of course, and the engraved crystal decanter will be terribly practical and useful on the Folkboat. All of the considerate organisers deserve many thanks, especially Jane Coombes, who is graciously continuing her late husband’s legacy (Kenny Coombes started the regatta and his welcoming attitude was a big part of its success).

cover shot! Photo by Tim Wright
Our loot! …the trophies from the regatta
Dinghy racing on the last day

Life after “the Classics”, as it is affectionately known, continued peacefully in the hexagonal hut on the hill, in the company of dogs and goats and carpenters and sailors. And then one day, out of the blue, I found myself dressed up as Freddie Mercury, dancing in a very short skirt with a hoover. I’m really not quite sure how I ended up in full make-up, stockings, and moustache, on stage with 5 middle-aged women… but I took some consolation in the fact that the performance was raising money for the Antigua National sailing academy, which is a charity that teaches local children and people with disabilities how to sail.

When I had managed to swab all the mascara off and I joined Elin after the show, she was quite clearly in a state of considerable shock, and said barely a word to me for about 30 minutes. She has since made an almost complete recovery, thankfully.

We were just trying to settle back into some kind if routine, when another irresistible adventure presented itself, and before we knew it we were off to St.Barths for another regatta… We left Lorema on her ridiculously large anchor, piled into the little Cariacou Sloop ‘Sweetheart’, and sailed away into the sunset once again.

Being Freddie Mercury in a short skirt at the local sailing school. It was for charity. Honestly. No, really
Lorema left at anchor, with a pelican keeping watch

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