Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Did Antigua Sailing Week "Suck" that bad?


Although this blog doesn’t usually criticize things in Antigua I feel that I need to RANT a bit about this year’s organization of something that has made me proud to be Antiguan for most of my life. Antigua sailing week was as big and as good as ever according to the organizers and “claimers”, but according to many it wasn’t nearly as good as it should have been. In fact so many people have said that “it sucked” that I felt as though I had to write something in the hope that some discussion could happen on the comments section below. I will post the comments if you make them. I mean if you have never been to one and are not a hard core sailor or party animal then I guess you will have though it was awesome.
The Antigua Sailing Week of years gone by was an international event that kept potential visitors excited all year long while they sat through the monotony of their daily lives. Sailing Week was organized by expats here on the island who had sailing and tourism based interests as a way to help enhance a different sector of the tourism product. I wanted to give you more history of the event and after digging through the website I finally found a bit of news that helped set the basis for my rant here on this blog. Read this statement: “It was just over 40 years ago that yacht broker Desmond Nicholson and Antiguan hotelier Howard Hulford came up with the idea of a spring regatta that would extend the tourist and sailing seasons for charterers and yachtsmen alike.” I think that the government of Antigua and Barbuda, the Stanford Financial Group, and the Antigua Hotels and Tourist Association and the rest of us need to read that carefully and remember why this event ever became an iconic one. I have to say that in my opinion Antigua Sailing Week has become marginalized and is now almost an embarrassment when you compare it to other nearby events or even the Antigua Sailing Week of the 80s and 90s.
The feeling I have about ASW is shared by many people who live here as well as many from abroad who knew what ASW was like in the old days.
In my opinion there are several areas of ASW’s organization that need to be corrected ASAP. The first is it needs to be run as if it were a massive corporation who’s success is essential or critical to all of it’s shareholders of which there are many…not only here in Antigua and Barbuda. Once we can come to grips with this then all the other aspects can seriously be taken into consideration, but as long as it is managed as a volunteer operated “fair” then it will keep cascading down the path towards mediocrity. Along with a great many Antiguans both sailors and “limers” (party lovers), I have attended the Heineken Regatta over the past few years. I remember the first time I went to the event as crew on First Run which was skippered by my Uncle Jimmy Fuller way back in the mid 80s. I think we won the regatta overall which was quite an achievement, but nothing like winning Antigua Sailing Week at the time. Back then Heineken was a small weekend regatta which went on while most of St. Martin carried on business as usual without actually knowing there was a sailing event going on. How the tables have turned. Most tourists here last week had no idea there was a regatta going on here until they saw all the yachts sailing past or pulling up into their bays. That’s another story though. After all Hulford and Nicholson started ASW to extend the tourist and sailing season for YACHTSMEN AND CHARTERERS alike. ASW has gone through a midlife crisis and doesn’t remember who the hell it actually is or what it stands for. Maybe the quote above should be a mission statement known by all who are paid to run sailing week. And paid they should be. You think Heineken regatta is where it is today because it's organizers are all volunteers? What is sailing week about now? I mean even I can’t properly describe it. Walking into Nelson’s Dockyard over the weekend some people told me they thought they were actually going through some kind of Jamaican “sound clash” with hard core Jamaican music being blared by massive skyward piles of speakers. Most of the “official parties” and events were soured by the need to “carnivalize” or “jamaicanize” them as well as the need by some of the interested parties within the “organization” of the event to control their interests.
Let’s specifically deal today with the liming or partying aspect of sailing week because I feel that it’s what the majority of the hard core complaints are about. I know that the Antigua Marine and Trades Association as well as some of the other core sailing companies and interests have more of a voice than I do when it comes to the actual racing, so I will leave them to try to make changes in that area. I know that changes need to be made there too because I have listened to experienced racers like my uncle as well as Carlo Falcone criticize the race management. After sailing in almost all previous sailing weeks, Jim actually completely stopped racing recently. Anyway let me move back to the party aspects of ASW because I feel this is where most of the correcting needs to take place.
Mount Gay Rum which by the way is not a sponsor of sailing week at all has been running the best run sailing week party for years and years. Of course they have an incredible wealth of experience in sponsoring and organizing parties and events within the international sailing community, and the only internationally recognized sailing event beacon is the Red Mount Gay sailing event hat. My dad has decades of Antigua Sailing Week hats from Mount Gay. Why are their parties so successful? Its this simple……they are organized for the yachting community and the yacht crews by paid professionals……all the rest of us join in because they are fun parties different from what we are used to in Antigua. Over at Galleon Beach or Calabash as its now called there are no crazy Jamaican hifi mountains, no speeches by politicians, or tourism/hotel officials, no other shows or carnival sidelines or distractions….just rum, happy sailors, some music, organized bars, and organized food…..Each person who is involved in ASW should go to this Mount Gay “unofficial” party and see how the entire event should be run. Hey guess what…? The entire Heineken regatta is run like the Mount Gay Rum party. Everything was flawlessly organized with specific events each day and night. The entertainment is always perfect….I mean how do you expect a party to be run properly when there is no clear epicenter….instead there are hifi systems and sub-parties all over the place. Anyway, in an incredibly intelligent effort to learn from the Mount Gay red hat party’s success, the Antigua Distillery and ASW decided to put on an official crew party to kind of open sailing week the day before the Red Hat party. They did this several years ago when they took on a more significant sponsorship and party management role within ASW. Their idea was very similar to Mount Gay’s with a free rum party on a beach. This time is was at Pigeon Beach and immediately it was a smashing success. Yachties and partiers from all over the place turned up in droves and for several years it was as good if not better than the Red Hat party. It was a true opening bash!!! Then something went wrong…..they felt as though they didn’t have enough control over the party with vendors and the like turning up. I am not 100% sure why but they did decide to move it over to Nelson’s Dockyard 2 years ago….this way it was within the national park and more easily controlled. Immediately the vibe changed and numbers dropped. This year the party was miniscule compared to years before and the vibe was totally lame. A party in the Caribbean on the beach can not be made better by putting it on the lawn of a hotel even if it’s within the national park of Nelson’s Dockyard. What was the problem with having an awesome opening party on Pigeon Beach? Anyone can see that this was a mistake. Ok here goes another mistake……. Lay day was as much a part of sailing week as the sailing was and as far as I remember it was organized at The Antigua Yacht Club with crazy games and fun for yacht crews as well as others. Fantastic photos and press reports described this event making it part of what made ASW unique. I am sure that someone will tell me that I am totally wrong, but it seems to me that Antigua Distillery took over the management of this party and felt that it would be better if it was moved over to Pigeon Beach. Now there were several things wrong with this decision. But first is the “if its not broke..don’t fix it” saying. Why change a good thing? Each year it was filled with excited and happy sailors and party lovers. None of the sailors had to get in cabs or take the long walk down to Pigeon Beach…..It was all right there in front of them. Many people who were not into sailing felt that this was the climax of ASW. Well it seems as though ASW needs a few blue pills because this year there was not much of a climax at all. OK so as I said they moved it to Pigeon Beach where as I have already said, hosted a great opening party in the past. Why couldn’t it do a good job on lay day? Well I guess because so many people loved lay day at the yacht club that they felt snubbed by the move to Pigeon. Ever since they moved it..the lay day party has been lame. It lacked any kind of energy and last years was sooooo bad that the Antigua Distillery and the ASW gang decided to not even have a lay day this year. It wasn’t until the week or two before that they sent out a frantic email saying that after all they would have it…but back at Pigeon. Ok so Pigeon wasn’t as good as the lay day at Antigua Yacht Club but at least it was a lay day right? Well they also decided to have an official birthday party over at Shirley Heights at the same time? Can you believe it? I don’t even have to say why this conflict of interest is crazy do I?
There are many other problems with the way the parties were organized or NOT organized but all in all I think that people who enjoyed the awesome party atmosphere of the 80s and 90s Antigua Sailing Weeks can only hope that something is done to change the way ASW has gone. This year I missed most of Sailing Week and went to the Tobago Jazz festival….I think I will book my flights earlier for next years festival because I know that I will not be the only Antiguan planning a trip there. If you like to party and are at all interested in seeing why people feel that ASW isn’t as good as it could be, then you should go to the Heineken regatta next March in St. Martin. They learned from us and now ASW needs to learn from them. All of the people involved with ASW should have to go!!! Face the fact that ASW isn’t as good as it used to be and many of us who know or knew better are not happy with the way it has fallen from grace.

I truly think that if people like Desmond Nicholson (RIP) and Howard Hulford could spend some time walking around during race week they would be incredibly disappointed.

8 comments:

Allie Kat(s) said...

I must admit I did not feel the vibe this year. I personally was into the cricket and because I went to Barbados for the finals I did not go to the the Cavalier Party (1st time I have not been) cause I did not want to travel with a headache and missed the Mount Gay one. Also missed Dickenson Bay day as decided watching UB40 was more interesting this year - and yeah it was. The confusion with where Lay Day was to be and Jolly Harbour Day just did not thrill me so stayed away. Finally as one of my friends daughters got a special mention in the poster/painting competition I decided to go down on Saturday. Now this was the first in years as I distinctly know I have not been for a few years because of the amount of persons, well as soon as I came over the hill overlooking Falmouth Harbour my first thought was "ok - and where are the boats" it was then to my surprise that at 4:20pm I was told, yeah there is parking in the Falmouth Parking Lot, and sure enough I got parked. Dockyard was EMPTY, now remember I am comparing it too a few years ago when you were shoulder to shoulder with a mix of persons. If anyone is familiar with cricket and saw the empty Caribbean grounds during World Cup and remembers watching other games in the Caribbean then this is my comparision to Dockyard Day. I got talking with a group from one of the yachts and their take on the early departure was the increased yachting activity across the Atlantic. I grew up with the greasy pole and the non-mariners race and that atmosphere was just non-existent this year. Even the food booths in the Car Park were complaining about the drop in trade. Everything that is happening in our society is reflected in these events, it does not bode well for the future. I guess also with the increased cost of living and cost of going out some events are going to suffer, maybe we are just beginning to see the start of everyone cutting back on trivialities??

Allie Kat(s) said...

I must admit I did not feel the vibe this year. I personally was into the cricket and because I went to Barbados for the finals I did not go to the the Cavalier Party (1st time I have not been) cause I did not want to travel with a headache and missed the Mount Gay one. Also missed Dickenson Bay day as decided watching UB40 was more interesting this year - and yeah it was. The confusion with where Lay Day was to be and Jolly Harbour Day just did not thrill me so stayed away. Finally as one of my friends daughters got a special mention in the poster/painting competition I decided to go down on Saturday. Now this was the first in years as I distinctly know I have not been for a few years because of the amount of persons, well as soon as I came over the hill overlooking Falmouth Harbour my first thought was "ok - and where are the boats" it was then to my surprise that at 4:20pm I was told, yeah there is parking in the Falmouth Parking Lot, and sure enough I got parked. Dockyard was EMPTY, now remember I am comparing it too a few years ago when you were shoulder to shoulder with a mix of persons. If anyone is familiar with cricket and saw the empty Caribbean grounds during World Cup and remembers watching other games in the Caribbean then this is my comparision to Dockyard Day. I got talking with a group from one of the yachts and their take on the early departure was the increased yachting activity across the Atlantic. I grew up with the greasy pole and the non-mariners race and that atmosphere was just non-existent this year. Even the food booths in the Car Park were complaining about the drop in trade. Everything that is happening in our society is reflected in these events, it does not bode well for the future. I guess also with the increased cost of living and cost of going out some events are going to suffer, maybe we are just beginning to see the start of everyone cutting back on trivialities??

Head 'Ed' Cumming said...

Surely a sailing week should 'blow' rather than 'suck'?

Anonymous said...

Not being a social animal I was not concerned by the lack of entertainment. The boring courses of A Division is what concerns me and the lack of separate courses for large and small boats.

Also, destination racing is not of interest to racing sailors most of whom did not anchor at Dickenson Bay, most of whom did not go to Jolly Harbour and most of whom complained about the long beat back from the finish line on Thursday, a race which started at a finish line which was so far away that nobody was there for the first start and for which no GPS co-ordinates were given at the skippers' briefing.

The Sailing Week Committee (made up of hoteliers not sailors) needs to get its act together and plan races for sailors.

Anonymous said...

Eli

You sure got your blood pressure up with this one… your “rant” was, I thought “a bit over the top”. From your “Question” in the headline (almost like… Have you stopped beating your wife?)… To your obvious “embarrassment” at this Antiguan Tourist Offering, I felt that you lacked some of the cutting, practical, and to the point commentary I have grown to expect from you.



Let me try to put some perspective on my comments.

I agree, the confusion over the “Lay Day”, was an embarrassment. And I yearn for the days when it was at the yacht club. As you know your Uncle was famous not only for sailing but his legacy in the management of dockyard affairs took a turn for the worst when ownership of a bar and position on committees clash into a conflict of interest that the Birds would have been proud of. Antigua ’s fine heritage of corruption still lingers on. The names have changed but the problem lingers.



I had to laugh at some of the editorials in the press leading up to the week that called for more local participation. One editorial asked why more Antiguans didn’t go out and buy yachts and join in? This is the level of understanding that the organizers have to deal with since the event has now grown to the largest tourist attraction in the small island nation. (And to put that into perspective it only draws approximately 2000 visitors.) Carnival may have more people on the street but how many visitors? So the question hangs out there with the politicians of how to get more of the local population involved (read making money). Our Culture Minister has not a clue.



From your use of the term “Jamaicanize” I take it you approve of Antiguan music and jump up but not to the Jamaican music. I on the other hand object to the battle of the speakers regardless of whose music it is. Every year it is the mindless locals who think that every one within 3 miles wants to hear his music and the impendent police force who allows it. This problem has been here for the past 18 years that I’ve lived here. What does the “gangster rap” party at the basket ball court have to do with sailing? Yet it is becoming a regular happening that “white people” are embarrassed to criticize but will go out of there way to avoid. Yes the Sailing Week committee should address the issue but what chance do you think they would have? The only way Mt Gay can get away with only one band is that it’s private property. On the other hand “Chicken city” lived up to its always wonderful reputation… where else do you get a lobster dinner for $30 EC (and no ABST added). This is the kind of local participation that makes the event special.



The major complaint from the sailors was that the big boats overwhelmed the smaller ones. ABM… covered the course in less than 2 hours while the smaller yachts took over 5 hours. Some future thought will be necessary to derive separate courses for these modern marvels. Say…Eli; could your super speed boat keep up with that “Rag Hanger”? Most of the pros also appreciated being excused from Jolly Harbour but the bare boats enjoyed it.



So to answer your question Eli… No I do not believe the week “sucked”. The weather for racing was the best in over 10 years. The international recognition from having the fastest yacht in the world win is great news for this small island… the racing organization came off with only one hiccup (a racing mark moved). The integration of the multihulls was fun… did you see the yacht “Looking for Elvis”? My guest enjoyed watching one of the most beautiful sailing events in the world right out side there hotel.



I think Eli that you have the audience, energy and knowledge to get in there and help make Antigua Sailing Week even better in the future. The Fuller name might help if used positively.

Just my thoughts

John



Feel free to post in your blog if you like.

AdventureAntigua said...

john, i think that any amount of speaker mountains clashing with eachother all over the place with an obvious lack of organization is a joke...whatever the type of music may be. The mount gay private property deal isn't an excuse because anyone playing loud music at an event like this should have some sort of permit whoever owns the land there. So...we agree on that point.
I think if you read what i said aqain then you will see that i did have practical commentary in that i gave the general problems as i saw it and suggested alternatives. I also did say that i think if you hadn't seen one before then you would agree that it was a great even as your guests did. My problem is that if you have been to them before then you will know that this one didn't even come close.

Anonymous said...

Dear E.
this is an amazing and very true article you wrote. I sincerely hope that will open some sort of debate and you can count on us as behind your back. We could repeat most of your concept also seen by our comercial and critical position within this manifestation. never the less I will only say one thing: the spirit of it is not the same. The joy of it is gone. I can easily say that with the intervention of the stanford group there is more money involved but the results are way worst.

Few days ago I witness the concert held on the hall of fame cricket ground: David Rudder, another well known lady soca singer and Sean Paul , one of the hottest dance hall artist on the market. All complimented by a 25 minutes + USD200,000) fire work show inthe amazing location that the hall of fame is. You know what? No one really gave a shit about the whole thing. Mr. Stanford has money to spend and whatever he does looks good but it feels just like nothing. Values are not there, Energies are not there. Positive vibes are far away. What to say?? Money doesn't make happiness?? Sounds a little too phylosophical for me but the truth is that the vibe ain't right!
One love, A. + The Abra-Posse

P.S. I assume I should have post this on your web site but I really have no clue on how doing it.... sorry,

Ann Phelan said...

I can add that I felt the Fort James venue sucked. I had a bad feeling about it before I went and after I left. I spent 1 hour tops and heading to see the steel band and David Rodigan at Shirley Heights instead. Phooey on whoever changed that venue.