20th – 23rd April 2018
Antigua hosts two famous international yacht racing events on the sailing calendar: Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta, and Antigua Sailing Week. So, as we are sailing a Late Classic boat (according to the Antique and Classic Boat Society) and because the crew are of Classic age, we decided to un-pluck the anchor from Jolly Harbour’s seabed and head south to watch our contemporaries in action.
To describe the wind as blustery is an understatement. We had a wet and lively ride all the way to English Harbour. But our timing couldn’t have been better. As we approached Falmouth Harbour, we caught the back of one of the races. And it was a pleasure to see these beautiful boats racing in close quarters under full sail. We followed the fleet for a while to take some photographs, then headed on to English Harbour and the anchorage to starboard of the entrance.
This anchorage might look like any other, but it has a hidden secret: When the wind dies it is transformed from calm and order to carnage and horror. In the absence of wind, boats turn to face each other stern to stern or come together side-by-side, anchors get wrapped, and no-one knows where things are going to end up.
We anchored at least 30 metres away from a French boat, and after the wind died, we ended up close enough to his stern to light his Gauloise Disque Bleu. After a few shoulder shrugs, and a conversation in Franglais, we learned that he had set two anchors – so we dug out our second anchor from the bowels of the cockpit locker and did the same. Then, and more out of luck than good judgment, we remained well away from the other boats for the rest of the time we were there.
The smart thing to do, if it’s possible to grab a spot, is to anchor near land and tie a rope to a tree. From that smug position, it’s possible to relax well away from the bonkers-ness and enjoy watching the carnage from a safe distance. And here, near to the shore, the water offers excellent snorkelling. There’s more than enough fish to stock a large tropical fish tank. And I watched a lazy turtle dozing in the seagrass for five minutes, his body rocking sleepily from side to side with the motion of the sea.
Nelson’s Dockyard, named of course after Admiral Lord Nelson, scourge of the French, dominates English Harbour. This is where the English fleet came for repairs until 1889 when they abandoned it and looked for others to scourge. The *Society of the Friends of English Harbour* began restoration of the dockyard in 1951, and an excellent job they have done. Now, rather than supplying stores to ships, Nelson’s Dockyard sells gifts, food and drink to visitors from the many local shops and restaurants on site. It’s a great place to wander around. And it’s an excellent place to watch the parade of classic yachts as they motor into the harbour with flags flying and crews polished.
The classic yachts came in one by one, somewhat surprisingly, to the commentary of Tom Cunliffe – he of sailing fame, white hair and pornstache. Each of the boats (ranging in size from 31′ to 158′) is magnificent and reflect the many hours of hard work and hard-earned money spent on them. We watched the parade for a while, then looked at the cars in the classic car show, and wandered around the dockyard before heading over to Falmouth harbour, just a 10-minute walk away, to grab some lunch and watch the boats as they came in to dock at the Antigua Yacht Club.