Last September we entered our first ever sailing regatta. And when I say ‘first ever,’ I mean it was not only the first time we raced our 56’ sailboat Britican, it was the first time we ever raced in a ‘real’ race.
The only experience we had prior to the regatta was a few fun races when we had a week-long sailing flotilla vacation. When you sign up for a flotilla with a company like Moorings, Neilson’s, or SunSail you start and end each day with a group of other boats – usually around 8 to 15 in total.
Flotillas are a great way to build your sailing confidence because you have help leaving and arriving. Furthermore, many of the outfits offer a little race on the last day to allow participants the opportunity to see how fast they can make the boat go.
Needless to say, our racing experience was limited to one official regatta, several flotilla fun races and my husband’s incessant need to race any boat that comes within eyesight of us!
Last year at the Oyster Palma Regatta we were the newbies on the block
And boy did I feel intimidated. The instant we arrived I realized that the regatta would be nothing like the friendly flotilla races. There were big boats – over 80’ – and massive crews. Even similar sized boats like us had up to 15 people crewing. Furthermore, almost all of the crews were professionals meaning that they certainly knew how to race. Many of the big boats sent home their ‘normal’ crew and brought in special racing crews for the week.
In Palma we were the only boat racing our home
We were also the only boat that had a child on board. Thankfully, Oyster supplied us with a variety of crewmembers throughout the week and we managed to get a couple of our friends to join in too.
Overall, I think we placed around 8th out of 30 boats which isn’t bad considering our circumstances.
When deciding whether or not we’d enter the Antigua Oyster Regatta both my husband and I were a bit skeptical. Our biggest issue was to ensure our daughter had other children around.
Imagine trying to race all day and then go to cocktail parties that ended late in the evening AND entertaining a five year old? It just didn’t work very well in Palma. In fact, when the last race day came I took Sienna off the boat and enjoyed a day at the Palma Aquarium.
At the Antigua regatta, however, and to our delight, the organizers at Oyster worked hard to find other kid boats to join. We were also promised that Oyster’s CEO, David Tydeman, would bring his 13-year-old daughter, Sasha, to help us out. By the time the decision had to be made, two other kid boats, both of which we knew, had signed up and some other kids would be present on one of the larger boats racing.
So our desire to have children around was taken care of
Our next issue was that we need crew! To sign up we had to have at least three crewmembers but based on our experience of racing in Palma, we felt that to be able to possibly compete we’d need five or six other bodies – preferably people that have been on a boat before!
In an ideal situation you need two people on each winch, a helmsperson, someone on the main and a couple people to work the foredeck.
My husband, Simon, and I sent out some emails asking if some of the people who helped us in Palma might be available for Antigua but everyone had prior commitments.
While enjoying our time around the country of Dominica, below Antigua, we were sailing with another kid boat. Simon mentioned our crew issue to them and they said, ‘we’ll be crew for you!’
Not only did our friends know how to sail but we acquired another kid – Lilly. Talk about result! I must say that I’m not so sure our friends knew what they were getting themselves into.
As the date to the regatta got closer we also discovered that a good friend of ours was due to fly into Antigua the week before Antique Race Week. Our friend, Harry, is a professional Skiff Sailboat competitor so we asked the owner of the classic boat Harry was on if we could ‘borrow’ him for the Oyster Regatta. One thing led to another and we got Harry!
Can things flow any better than that?
So…the month before the regatta we arrived in Antigua. Unfortunately we located an issue with our gooseneck – the device that attaches the boom to the mast. Fortunately, we found the problem because racing with a faulty gooseneck could have been fatal.
Thankfully the guys at Antigua Rigging Limited sorted us out in time for the regatta. They had to work hard to squeeze us in amongst their already tight schedule. Watch my video on my YouTube.com/SailingBritican channel
One thing to note about Antigua is that it’s fairly quiet all year round except for April. When April hits the Falmouth Bay and English Harbour are CRAZY. The two main regattas for the Caribbean are hosted in this area – Antigua Classics followed by Antigua Race Week.
Back to the Oyster Regatta…
While our gooseneck was being mended, Simon and I put our 5-year-old daughter, Sienna in a local school and started preparing the boat for guests and racing.
We cleaned, organized, and serviced everything we could.
Although it was a bit annoying being laid up before the regatta, in hindsight, it was a good thing. The extra time gave us the opportunity to not only get the boat ready but to relax before all the buzz and activity of the Oyster Regatta.
Finally, the day came to enter English Harbour and moor up in the historic Nelson’s Dockyard
For the previous month we frequented Nelson’s Dockyard to enjoy the history, look at the massive yachts and grab a beer or two. It was fantastic to finally enter the dockyard as a regatta contestant – the same dockyard that some of the most famous boats will soon enter for the Classic and Race Week.
Upon entering Nelsons Dockyard was just Simon, Sienna and I on the boat
The mooring instructions were to drop the anchor, go backwards against the jetty and have two lines aft holding the boat in place. The above picture is of Simon backing us in.
Due to the wind and current it took Simon several goes to get the boat lined up and backed in. I like the fact that Simon is very happy to star over if he doesn’t feel things are right. Eventually we moored up being the seventh Oyster to arrive.
That evening, our crew from sailboat Delphinus arrived: Paul, Jayne and Lilly. While they were sorting themselves out, we were saying ‘hi’ to old friends and introducing ourselves to new friends. There was a lovely buzz on the dock and I instantly recognized that the feel of the Antigua Regatta was going to be way different from the Palma races.
I felt relaxed and calmly excited rather than a ball of nerves
For arrivals and check-in Simon and I booked us in at the temporary Oyster Race Committee booth. We received our instructions in addition to a really nice SLAM laptop case. I love all the goodies you get at these events! I think it’s the adult version of getting toys in my cereal as a kid.
Once booked in, Jayne and I went for a wonder to see if she could get her hair cut and I could get a pedicure. I usually do my own toe nails but considering I had to wait for Jayne I decided to treat myself. We went to D-Envy down the road towards Falmouth Harbour and had a great time.
For two hours we chatted with the hairdresser and her daughter, the one doing my pedicure. It was such a calming thing to do. I felt so privilege to be where I was.
In the mean time, Sienna and Lilly played with Legos and Simon and Paul went to the Skippers Meeting. In the meeting, the Oyster Race Committee Team talked about the course, experience of the crews (some had lots – 88.5’ Guardian Angel was mentioned and some had very little– Britican was named), the importance of timings, enjoying the races, the rules, destinations of the places we were sailing to, events and so forth.
Around 6pm, all the boaters made their way over to the historic Admirals Inn to pick up a little boat transporting us over to ‘Boom’ a restaurant that used to be the old gunpowder shed.
The children from aged 5 to 15 all quickly met each other and set up camp around a table. The adults grabbed a rum punch and started socializing. And not long after lovely nibbles came out. We enjoyed tiny hamburgers, grilled chicken on a stick, bruschetta, shrimp balls and other tasty nibbles. There was certainly plenty to eat and drink.
Unlike the Palma Regatta, where I felt as if it was a business networking event, this first social element was relaxed and very enjoyable. I was able to chat with friends I already knew and also meet quite a few new people.
I’m not one to enjoy small talk but the evening didn’t feel forced
And it was so relaxing to know that Sienna had loads of friends to play with. Both Lilly and Sasha, David Tydeman daughter, looked after all the children. It was a dream come true for us. Furthermore, it was great to see a new friendship form between Lilly and Sasha.
We all went back to the boat and tried our best to get a good night’s sleep.
Oyster Regatta – Antigua Race Day 1 – Nelsons Dockyard Marina to Nonsuch Bay
In the morning we were all up ready for the day to unfold. Everyone grabbed some cereal and Simon made coffees. The first thing to do was to go around the boat explaining how things worked. Simon gave an introduction to the winches, managing the main sail and how to work the poles on the foredeck.
A knock came on the boat and when we peered out we saw Simon from the insurance company Pantaneus, an event sponsor. In Palma, Simon helped us out for a day and we really enjoyed having him. As luck would have it, we managed to get him for a second time!
It didn’t take me long to hand out our Raspberry sailing t-shirts
While laid up in Catamaran Marina getting our gooseneck fixed I found a t-shirt printing company nearby. We missed the cutoff date for Oyster to arrange t-shirts so it was a good find. In the Palma Regatta we had navy shirts and they didn’t feel lively enough. My decision to go for raspberry was to add a bit more energy to the boat!
With everyone in raspberry, we hovered around the VHF waiting for the weather report and race instructions. Paul wrote everything down and Simon plotted on the map the day’s course.
The energy on the boat was a bit nervous
By 10am, we slipped our lines and proceeded to the race line start. I felt fairly calm and looking at Simon, I kept seeing a big grin on his face. He was eager to get going and see how we’d fair against our Class 3 competitors.
The course started us off outside English Harbour going west around a marker to the east of the island and up to Nonsuch Bay for the finish line. We declared white sails rather than colored as we’d need more people to fly our geniker or spinnaker.
For the most part, the first half of the race was rather calm. The wind was light and we simply did our best to go as fast as we could. At one point we were able to do the goose-wing configuration where we had our front sail on one side and our main out on the other.
As we passed boats or boats passed us we’d give a big wave
The kids mainly stayed in the saloon playing games or watching a movie. From time to time they’d pop upstairs and ask how we were doing. Everything seemed to flow very easily.
By the time we got to the finish line there was only one boat in our class next to us
They had a more advantageous handicap so we knew that they came in first, but we were delighted with a second place position.
We followed the channel up Nonsuch Bay, found a place to drop anchor and recounted our day’s sailing. Friends in the bay took a dinghy over to hear how we did and we had some other visitors from other Oyster boats. We enjoyed some nibbles and prepared for the 6pm water taxi pickup.
Us girlies put on our dresses, took the taxi over to the Nonsuch Bay Resort and walked along the beach to a massive tent. Upon arrival a lovely woman introduced herself and explained that they set up a ‘kids club’ for all the children where they’d get pizza, play some games and watch a movie.
Once we made it to the big tent we were handed cocktails and nibbles came out. There was sushi, fried wontons and various other lovely appetizers. Simon, our crew and I chatted with others about our day.
Everyone seemed very easy going
The prize giving ceremony for the day started promptly
Simon was delighted to receive a lovely chrome sailboat for second place. In Palma we were fortunate to win an award for having the youngest crewmember, Sienna but that wasn’t a real prize. It was nice to get something.
We all then sat down at a table, enjoyed a wonderful buffet of lovely food and talked with everyone around us. Around 9pm the children came down to the beach and not long after we headed back to the boat to get some shut-eye before the next day’s race.
Oyster Regatta – Antigua Race Day 2 – Nonsuch Bay to Jolly Harbour Marina
At 8:30am our friend, Harry, from Australia arrived to our boat by water taxi. His flight to Antigua came in the night before. Harry helped to get the owner of the classic boat to English Harbor and then took a taxi up to Nonsuch Bay to help us for the rest of the regatta.
Not long after, Declan O’Sullivan, from Pelagos Yachts joined us.
Two new crew – great news!
Harry didn’t take longer than a few seconds to say ‘hi’ and get right into things. He pulled out the spinnaker, tested out how the poles worked and became very acquainted with the way the boat was rigged.
As soon as I saw the spinnaker come out I started to get nervous. The first time we tried to fly it, we ripped it. The second time we tested it out, while crossing the Atlantic, it seemed unmanageable. We only flew it for a couple minutes before taking it down.
It’s just such a huge sail and it involves quite a few ropes to get it working!
At 9:30, Paul was at the navigation desk ready to write down the weather and race marks. Jayne and I prepared some wraps for lunch and cut up veggies for snacks.
We proceeded out of Nonsuch Bay with eager anticipation.
Having two new crewmembers on board was exciting. But I was also slightly nervous when Harry said, ‘Kim, you’re going to do the foredeck with me.’ I thought, ‘what does that entail? Will I be strong enough to do whatever I have to do? Yikes.’
Across the start line we have our front and main sail flying
Secretly I hoped that we wouldn’t be able to fly the spinnaker. I’m such a chicken. In the lead, Simon helmed us down the east coast of Antigua and once we rounded the first mark, Harry yelled, ‘Come with me Kim!’
Harry attached the spinnaker to the front of the pulpit (above the anchor). After pulling the spinnaker up to the top of the mast and having me guide the spinnaker up, he gave me some ropes and said this one will come down and the other will go up. They were the guide lines to allow the spinnaker shoot to be pulled up over the spinnaker allowing the spinnaker to open and fill with wind.
Harry pulled and pulled and the outer sheath that was supposed to go up easily kept getting tangled. After 20 minutes of going in the wrong direction the spinnaker finally opened completely and off we went.
All the other boats were flying asymmetrical spinnakers and since ours was symmetrical we had a higher range of wind angles we could fly in. Once we got back in the race we ploughed by everyone…and I mean everyone. We flew up to the next mark.
My job was to manage the topping lift on the poles – either pull it up or let it down. I was the one who also used a winch to make the poles go up or come down. It was hard work but I loved it.
Furthermore, because I was busy doing stuff on the foredeck not once did I get seasick!
In the end we beat one of the 82’ Oysters across the finish line and won first place for our class and the class above us! Considering Oyster wants to sell new large boats I’m not sure our win went down too well. Heheheheehe.
The prize giving was at Tamarind Tree restaurant in a spectacular resort called Curtain Bluff. We all piled onto some buses and took a twenty minute ride down the coast. It was a lovely resort with amazing surroundings.
And to our delight, the restaurant put a table together for all the children and they seemed to have a fantastic time.
The meal was lovely, the people at our table were great and the live music was brilliant.
And winning first place was an absolute dream come true!
At first I thought that the pressure was now off
We won a first place trophy – it was more than we could have ever dreamed of – so now we could chill out and really enjoy the rest of the event.
Now that we won a first place, I wanted to win two more first places and win the whole regatta. I’m sure Simon did too but I was surprised at my response. That being said, as the days went forward I became more and more anxious.
Fortunately we had a beach day scheduled in for the following day. When I woke up I felt shattered. I felt as if I was run over by a bus. Was it doing the poles? Was it the anxiety of raising the spinnaker? Was it the fact that we won a first place and I wanted to now get a taste of even more glory? Hehehehe.
For the beach day at Jackie O’s Beach, everyone went except for me and Paul. Paul’s boat was at Jolly Harbour so he went home and relaxed. After the first day his back started to play up so he was in quite a bit of discomfort.
As for me…I just needed a break. I wanted to give the boat a good scrub, make some food for dinner and relax. Going to the beach would have just been more socializing and drinking.
Oyster Regatta – Antigua Race Day 3 – Jolly Harbour Marina
The morning started with a bit of hussel and bustle. The boys pulled our asymmetrical sail out and the plan was to leave early to see if we could get it to fly.
While crossing the Atlantic Ocean, we had a massive disaster with this particular sail. The way to fly it is to attached the bottom of the sail to a clip near the anchor. Above the clip is a hand furling unit with a rope running around a wheel. Once the sail is hoisted to the top of the mast, we pull the rope and the sail unfurls.
During our crossing the furling unit or bottom of the sail came loose. Imagine a wrecking ball because that’s what it turned into! The whole sail, still furled, went flying into the air with this heavy furling unit flying about.
My vision turned to slow motion as I watched this potentially fatal event unfold
The furling unit could have taken off a head or put a hole in the boat. After several long minutes, we eventually got the furling sail in but it went under the boat with the furling unit. There were some loud noises and one massive rip. When we eventually got to St Lucia, Simon took it to the repair shop but since having it repaired the unit was not tested.
So…Sienna took us out of the Jolly Harbour Marina
Once we were out to sea, Harry hoisted the asymmetrical sail and after ten minutes of fiddling with the furler it was decided that it wouldn’t work. Down went the sail back into storage.
Thankfully, we wouldn’t have used the sail anyway.
We declared ‘white sails’ meaning that we wouldn’t sail a spinnaker (symmetrical or asymmetrical). By declaring white sails our handicap would be higher.
The day’s race started with all of our class right on the line. We tried hard to be first but we were beaten to the line by our friends on sailing vessel Crackerjack.
Harry called the shots, Simon helmed, Paul released the jib sheets (ropes holding the front sail to the winches), I pulled the jib sheets in and helped Harry with the poles, Jayne was on constant watch for the marks and the children helped to blow more wind into the sails!
The feel on the boat was nervous anticipation. When Harry told us to do something we all jumped to do it. With the whole fleet on our heels I kept willing the wind to keep us in the lead.
For over four hours we were in the lead
It wasn’t to the very last few minutes that the two 88.5’ boats, Guardian Angel and Lush, passed us. In the end we crossed the finish line 4th out of the whole fleet and well before anyone in our class came close the line.
Amazingly, we didn’t use a spinnaker and all the big boats did. I wonder how much we would have beaten the big boys if we did fly our colored sail?
After the race we returned to the Jolly Harbour Marina and all collapsed in exhaustion. We clean the boat, enjoyed a beer and had some snacks. It wasn’t long before we had to meet at the Greek Restaurant for the prize giving.
For day 3 there was no doubt in our minds – we knew we came first in our class
The only boat we were worried about flew their spinnaker and came in behind us so it was official that we would win the day’s race.
Jayne, Lilly and Sienna went up to receive the price. We won two lovely Dartington crystal glasses engraved with ‘Oyster Regattas,’ on them. Another prize that’s not suitable for a boat – hahahahaha, but I’m not complaining.
By 9pm poor Sienna was absolutely shattered. She came up to me and asked if I could take her back to the boat so she could sleep. Sienna is not one to ever slow down so I took her request very seriously. Sienna and I retired for the night.
I wish I could say that I slept well but with one race left and the possibility to win the entire regatta in mind, I tossed and turned all night. I’m sure Simon did too.
The pressure was serious now – we could win the whole regatta!
Oyster Regatta – Antigua Race Day 4 – Jolly Harbour Marina to English Harbour
I woke feeling like a truck ran over me. There was a ball in my throat and a nervous feeling in my stomach. I kept telling myself that I was excited but in all honesty I was extremely anxious.
After doing the poles for a couple days my body hurt all over. I was hunched over in an odd position and rotating a winch that didn’t really want to move very easily.
Racing for four days probably doesn’t seem like much but aside from the physical activity required, the mental side of things is extremely heavy. After we finished racing I often couldn’t do simply computations or decided whether I wanted a beer or not!
My appreciation for those massive ocean-going racers has risen drastically
So, for day 4 the pressure was on. We slipped our lines as early as we could to get out of the marina. After listening to the weather there was talk, at first, about using the spinnaker, but the winds were increasing.
By the time the race started, Harry and I put a reef in the main reducing the size so that we wouldn’t get blown over. In hindsight, it was an excellent decision because the winds got up to 40 knots!
Unbelievably, sailing vessel Crackerjack beat us but we soon passed them and then not one boat beat us past the finish line!
We were in the lead the entire day and had line honors. In the video I’ve created there’s a great shot with us coming down the home stretch and all the other boats way behind us trying to catch up.
The day was not without a bit of panic, however
I’m not sure how it happened, but I must have blacked out a bit and reduced the tension I held around the jib sheet. I saw my life flash before my eyes as the front sail blew out to sea as the rope holding it to the boat unwound furiously around the winch.
I quickly moved all the rope off of me while Paul did the same. The fear was that a body part my get caught in the furious unfurling of rope. Harry ran over, grabbed the now loose sheet (rope). I wrapped it back around the winch and pushed the button to wind it back in.
We barely lost any speed but I felt terrible
After things were back together I looked at all my fingers to make sure they were still there and working. Later that day my heart actually hurt – I think I got a massive shot of adrenaline and had a bit of shock!
With all the anxiety about winning the final race I was worried that I could have ruined things. There was no need to worry – we annihilated everyone even with my mishap.
On day three our 20 minutes of lost time due to the spinnaker issues didn’t seem to stop our win’s either.
For Day 3 and 4 the Oyster Race Committee stopped telling us whether we won on other classes like they did on day 2. I have a feeling that if scores were calculated across the board, based on handicap, we would have won the whole regatta for all classes.
But Oyster can’t be shown to have a 13-year-old 56’ boat beating all the brand new 60’ to 88.5 vessels, now can they?
One thing is for sure, with the right people on our boat boy can she fly!
Being a part of the Oyster Regatta was a blast and winning first place in our class was better than a dream come true.
Now I’m left to wonder, what’s next?!
At the final prize giving ceremony, Sienna and Lilly went up on stage to get our trophy for winning the day’s event. Then all the children went up to receive an award for participating. Finally, all of us we went up again for winning the whole regatta.
We all worked hard and it was brilliant to have the crew we did…but part of me can’t help but think a miracle happened this past week. I look back to those scarey days of thinking, ‘should we actually sell up and sail away,’ and think how close we came to playing it safe and not following through on our dreams.
I’m not sure how or why things work the way they do, but I’m positive there’s magic in the universe and those that say ‘screw it, I’m going to do my own thing,’ do get rewarded.