Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Classic Yachts in the West Indies

Sailing has been an integral part of Caribbean life since the arrival of the Spaniards back in 1492. From that day until now sailing vessels have made ocean crossings carrying cargo and passengers to and from the islands. Classic yachts started doing day tours here back in the 1960s. Here you see my Grandparents and their kids back in the early days of day charters here in Antigua.Over the past 50 years sailing regattas have become more common around the island chain with Antigua Sailing Week being the most famous of all. Yachts from around the world competed every year to be the fastest. While boats in Sailing Week got faster and more technologically advanced each year, the older vintage yachts found it more difficult to compete. Even skippered by the most experienced racers these beautiful yachts just were no match for the newer racing machines. Something had to change, and in 1988 a small group of vintage “Classic” yacht owners got together and competed in a separate event which was called The Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta. Since then it has grown to be one of the most prestigious events of its kind with beautiful masterpieces of vintage design get together to compete. To be considered eligible in this regatta yachts have to be vintage sailing vessels or modern ones built according to old designs. Most of the yachts racing in the event since its inception in 1988 were built in Europe or in the USA, but recently Caribbean built boats have been joining in with ever increasing numbers and popularity. During the early days of European colonization in these Islands many cargo boats were built up and down the Caribbean chain and used to quickly sail from island to island with loads of everything from fish to sugar to sand to cement. You name it and Caribbean built boats carried it. Sadly due to a huge variety of reasons there are only a few places left in the Caribbean still hanging on to the fading art of wooden boat building. The little Grenadine island of Carriacou is probably best known these days for its traditional boat builders. This small group of craftsmen still has skills left behind by Scottish boat builders brought to the island back in the early 1800s to build trading boats for plantation owners. Carriacou Sloops is a fantastic two volume book put together by world famous photographer Alexis Andrews and showcases the history, tradition, and lifestyle associated with building these amazing wooden yachts. Back in the early 90s a local sailor and racer by the name of Eddie Barreto decided that he was going to commission a yacht from Carriacou knowing all too well that these classically designed boats were as fast as they were beautiful. Having one of these boats commissioned is the start of an amazing journey that only leaves the owner with a greater appreciation for his/her yacht. I know this because today I am one of those owners. Everything from cutting local wood from the local forests to the final traditional beach launch is a process which has almost been forgotten around the world. A person can only feel blessed to have been part of the process that was undertaken to build the boat he or she is sailing at the end of the day. Eddie’s Carriacou sloop was the first of these boats to race in Antigua classic yacht regatta nearly 15 years ago. As more and more of these special yachts took part, a category in the regatta dedicated to these wonderful gems called “The Traditional Class” was added. In 2008 there were eight of these proud, colourful, Caribbean yachts racing together and with others being built as these words are written the class will only get bigger. My yacht “Ocean Nomad” was sitting half built on the beach in Carriacou only a few months before the regatta when I was asked to finish her. The challenge to get her finished and ready to race sparked my interest and with a dedicated team of local builders as well as a staggering amount of help from friends back in Antigua, Ocean Nomad managed to turn up at the start line with last minute work being done as we crossed it. We managed to finish 2nd overall in our class behind Alexis Andrew’s “Genesis”. It was a great honor to be sailing in The Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta on board a traditional Caribbean boat made from renewable resources right here in our islands. “Ocean Nomad” is now the first yacht to be doing day sailing charters and tours in Antigua. The Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta takes place in mid April and if you would like to learn more about it and our own Caribbean yachts look for Sailing Antigua’s “Ocean Nomad” while on Antigua. Remember you can also find “Carriacou Sloops” at bookstores around the island.

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