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.