September, 2014: Poor Rene had to stay in Antigua all by his lonesome for 2 1/2 weeks last March/April while Stacy went back to the U.S. for a family visit. He managed to do a ton of boat projects, but didn't have a lot of fun by himself. At least he had Antigua's famous regattas to look forward to, which began a few days after Stacy returned.
So have you ever wandered along the docks of your local marina, or maybe paged through a glossy sailing magazine, and had your mouth water at a gorgeous old wooden boat? Not just any old boat, but one that's been lovingly cared for, to the point that every inch of the varnish gleams? Multiply that by 50-100 boats, and you have Antigua's Classics Regatta.
"The Classics" happens every April, and is potentially more famous for its dock-walking and parties than for the racing itself. Spectators are welcome to wander along the docks, admiring the beautiful yachts, and with Mount Gay Rum as the primary sponsor, you know there'll be a few parties.
The races typically started around 10:30am each morning, when we'd either hike to a vantage point or go out in the dinghy to get up close and personal. The dinghy ride was by far the favorite, as it allowed us to get some terrific pictures of the yachts warming up before their starting gun.
Each evening began at the Panerai Watches booth, where we got free bubblies and saw some incredible footage of the day's races. (Those camera-drones are perfect for events like these!) From there it was on to the Mount Gay event, which often included food, souvenir booths, and live music...and ALWAYS included rum drinks. :-)
Classics Week was soon followed by Sailing Week, where romance and history was replaced by high-performance hulls and LOTS of money. We'd been warned that Sailing Week had a completely different feel to Classics Week ("Classics vs. Plastics", as some friends said), and it wasn't just about the style of boats.
On the plus side, Rene managed to get over 20 baseball caps at the Mount Gay Red Cap party (gifts for our famileeeee!!) We'll definitely be going back to Classics next year. Save the dates: April 16-21, 2015
In between races, we managed to see some of Antigua's more touristy spots. Nelson's Dockyard is a cultural heritage site and National park in English Harbour, Antigua, which was a popular port in the 1700s and 1800s. After being abandoned by the Royal Navy in 1889, Nelson's Dockyard was restored to it's former glory in the 1950s and was opened to the public as a tourist site and marina.
Today you can visit the historic buildings, cannons, and remnants of the 1797 sail loft as you admire the visiting yachts. You can also hike from the Dockyard along trails to the rest of the park, where you'll get some amazing vantage points of Antigua and the surrounding islands.
We also found - surprise, surprise! - a few great spots for food and drinks. We'd had a big surprise a few days after Stacy returned from the States when we learned that our friend, Harry (S/V Ulysses Blue) was in town to captain a motor yacht across the Atlantic. We hadn't seen him since Sint Maarten the year before, so we decided to catch up with him and meet some of his crew-mates over dinner. Club Sushi, located over the Antigua Yacht Club, boasted an all-you-can-eat sushi night for 80 ECs (about $30 US). While this might not seem like a big deal to those of you living in the U.S., we'd only seen decent sushi on three or four islands in the entire Caribbean.
Our last sushi was in St. Thomas two years ago, so we were long overdue. With nine of us at the table, we ordered enough sushi to fill a four-foot wooden canoe...and that was only the first round! We were thrilled to get to visit with Harry and see the latest pics of his wife and daughters (more great boat kids!), and hope to see them in person again one of these days.
We discovered yet another gem on Antigua, thanks to Susie on Spirited Lady. We'd been looking for a place to celebrate Stacy's birthday, and Susie
had recommended Catherine's Cafe Plage. (FYI, Catherine's is also the top-rated restaurant on Antigua, per Trip Advisor and other sites.) You know we love our good food
and wines, but this put some of our favorite Caribbean restaurants to
shame. From tuna tartare and steak carpaccio starters to our lamb chop
and lobster risotto mains, the food and wine was better than anything
we'd had since leaving Houston...and that's saying something!
Antigua's Pigeon Beach in Falmouth Harbor, Catherine's Cafe balanced an
elegant setting with a casually-dressed staff; since we don't keep a lot
of "resort wear" on board, we appreciated being able to enjoy a
fantastic meal without worrying about a strict dress code!
Catherine's staff was friendly, warm, and attentive, with welcoming hugs
going out to the many returning patrons as well as us newbies. There'll definitely be a return trip when we attend the Classics next year!
Best of all, Antigua gave us an opportunity to spend some quality time with friends Pat and Darnell on Island Dream.
We've been cruising with them for nearly three years and knew Antigua
would be where we said goodbye as they headed for Puerto Rico and points
west while we sailed south to Grenada. We've already been making plans
for a reunion sometime next year and hope we can all make it happen.
Love and miss you, P&D!
Feel free to enjoy more photos of the races and dockside (click to view).