Antigua Classics

9th April
Holly Mae approached Antigua’s south west corner and sailed along the west coast for about 3 M to Jolly Harbour, which we’d been told was the cheapest place to check in. Why it should be cheaper than Falmouth or English Harbour, I never found out.
There was a modern marina, set in a dredged out salt pond and surrounded by holiday homes with pontoons at the end of their sun deck. Set as it was on the leeward side of the island there was little cooling wind to counteract the hot sun. But we were there to check in, fill up with water and meet Giles our next crew, who was over for the Antigua Classics and the return crossing. When he arrived on the 10th we moved to the anchorage outside where it was cooler, cheaper and, we could swim.
The following day we sailed around the corner up the south coast to Falmouth Harbour (about 10M away) where the Antigua Classics were to be held. It’s a large natural harbour with three expensive super-yacht marinas and a large anchorage in the middle. We sailed into the anchorage and thought we’d impress the natives by tacking up through the anchored yachts . We put in three tacks avoiding a couple of shoals and after the last tack I could see clear water all the way to our destination. Pretending not to notice the admiring glances of those sitting in their cockpits, sipping cold beers, we sheeted in for the last leg and felt Holly Mae heel slightly as she accelerated on the home straight. This is the way to do it. No motoring for us………………………….. and then ………………………with the sails still full and drawing we slowly lost all way and came to a standstill…………..aground ! Ah……… no wonder there was clear water with no boats anchored there. And those glances………… they weren’t admiring at all. They were just waiting for the fun to start. Luckily the bottom was soft so no damage, and a local RIB put a line on our bow and turned us around ‘til we were heading for deeper water and we were able to motor off.

After a few days of making ourselves at home in Falmouth harbour the `Classics regatta started. There were to be five races, one of which was a single handed race. We were in Classic Class D with three other mis-matched boats one of which was our old friend Grayhound. The other two being a modern Spirit Yawl of 40 or 42 feet and Old Bob, a heavy double ended ferro ketch of similar size. Although we were the smallest boat in our class we had the biggest handicap for some obscure reason.
On the first day in the single handed race I managed to complete the course only to be told that officially I was recorded as DNS, (did not start). Something to do with crossing the start line more than five minutes late. For the second race I had Giles crewing along with John ( who came along the quay looking for a sail). Noley was not feeling her best and decided to sit this one out. Conditions were lively…………… a steady force 5 with quite a swell, as we sailed out of the harbour 20 minutes before start time. The sun was out, and the spray which drenched us was warm as we set off across the start line close with the others in our class. Ours being the smallest class, and usually the slowest, set off first, the bigger classes, including one J class, made a pretty impressive sight as they caught and passed us during the race . Within our class the three smaller boats were surprisingly well matched…………… the larger Grayhound , although fastest on a reach was slow to tack and not good to windward. After over four hours of racing we crossed the line in second place although because of our handicap were given third.

Our glory came on the second day when we had the toughest conditions………….. winds F6 to F7 and a large swell. We had just one reef in the main, in conditions which I wouldn’t normally be out in. We made a good start were close by a Gauntlet (40 something feet of classic Bermudan class) when his jib blew to shreds. It was one of three or four sails we saw blown out in the strong winds that day.
Things were going well and we reached the first turning mark ahead, with the others breathing down our necks. Around the buoy, on the windward leg bashing into the swells with the lee deck almost permanently awash, we were getting a good soaking. The bigger swells would slow us momentarily but we could feel the power as we accelerated away. We were pleased to see that Holly Mae was sailing closer to the wind and was slowly pulling away from our competitors. The swell was biggest at the windward mark off Shirley Heights and we gybed around in the spectacular company of several bigger boats.
We were romping along and sailing at the limit, although on the downwind legs the others, with longer waterline length had the advantage . We held our lead on the downwind leg followed by two reaches, but found the others had closed by the leeward mark. The last leg was to windward though, and the advantage was back with us. We stretched out our lead again to cross the line first and also win on handicap.
Post race celebrations started with an invitation by John to be guests of the Tot Club over in English Harbour, and then later there was the usual reception generously lubricated with Mount Gay rum. On one evening ( I have to confess that I can’t remember which ) there were prize giving’s for the Concours d’Elegance and to my surprise and delight Holly Mae won first in the Classics (owner maintained) class. This despite the judges arriving one morning after breakfast before we’d had a chance to tidy up.
The following morning, as we motored out for the start, the motor stopped dead and we thought we’d miss the race. Our momentum took us on, and drifting under bear poles, we rounded up and dropped anchor with only 20 mins to go. We quickly hoisted sail and sailed out the anchor, amazingly arriving at the start line, and crossing just behind the others. But it wasn’t to be our day……………. on a course of four reaches with no windward legs, we couldn’t catch them and crossed the line last. We were now faced with having to repeat our sailing through the anchorage, but hopefully avoid the egg on our faces this time. Our berth was stern to, which required dropping anchor and backing in to the dock. We dropped the stays’l as we entered the harbour, to reduce speed. Then six or eight tacks took us through the anchorage. I often like to sail through an anchorage, but usually take the precaution of having the motor ticking over in neutral, Doing it without that backup was tense and once or twice it was touch and go whether we’d clear someone’s pride and joy. But we did, dropped the jib and rounded up in the marina, dropping anchor in roughly the right place, and then some helpers in RIBs pushed us into place, stern to the dock.
Back on the dock I drained the water trap in the fuel system and what came out bore little resemblance to diesel. Just dirty seawater ! It became clear that with the lee rail under the day before, the diesel tank breather had taken several mouthfuls of seawater and the motor didn’t like it ! Obviously the water and got as far as the fuel pump and the injectors and I was a little concerned at the effect this may have had. Trying to find help was tricky when everyone was in party mode, but whilst supping lobster bisque and rum that evening, Giles made contact with Gerry, a local boatbuilder, who put us in contact with Fleming, a Dutch engineer.
At 7.30 the following morning , Fleming was down, he flushed through the fuel pump and injectors and set up a temporary fuel tank made from a 5 litre water bottle then fired up the motor. All sounded good. No permanent damage. Massive relief ! The 5 litre fuel tank would get us out for the days racing and back in again at the end of it. I’d still have to drain the main fuel tank later to get rid of any remaining seawater.
The winds had eased to F4 to 5 for the last days race and after the poor showing the previous day I decided to shake out the reef and put up the tops’l. Even if we didn’t win, Holly Mae would look good with the tops’l up. It was an exciting race……….. we chased around the spirit yacht, hard on his heels and left the other two far behind. On this course there was a long a long beat to windward and we very nearly caught him but by the windward mark he was still a couple of minutes ahead and he held it to the line.
It had been a few days of exciting racing, and I’d pushed Holly Mae harder than ever before and she’d shown that she was up to it. Probably more so than her crew who were by now exhausted and looking forward to a bit of a rest.
I don’t have any photos to hand at the moment, but you can see some great ones of Holly Mae during the racing at including a few taken from a helicopter !