Going to the Ball

Posted by on Apr 28, 2006 in blog, Voyage 1 | No Comments
Going to the Ball

04/28/2006, English Harbour, Antigua

It’s been a busy month. There’s been a lot of change in the last 4 weeks and we’re finally writing about it. The first question most people want to know is “Where are you?” We’re in the Caribbean island of Antigua where we’ve been taking part in the Annual Classic Yacht Regatta for the last week. It has been a wonderful experience being surrounded by incredibly beautiful and historical yachts of all sizes. These are yachts David has been reading about for many years in sailing magazines and we finally have a chance to see them up close and on the water. In order for us to go to this prestigious Regatta we had to get Amanzi ready. Imagine Cinderella getting ready for the ball – well, that’s what it’s been like with Amanzi. We had to transform her from our floating caravan to the princess she is, showing off her elegance and beauty.

How did we end up here?

It all started about 2 and half weeks ago while we were in the British Virgin Islands (BVI’s). David and the cats had sailed Amanzi from the south coast of Puerto Rico solo while I visited my family for 2 weeks. I joined him again in the BVI’s. The BVI’s are a sailor’s paradise. The many islands are all short distances – only 2-3 hours away. There are a number of reefs to explore and we were able to be at a different anchorage every day with perfect sailing conditions – steady winds and warm weather – to reach our daily destination. While at anchor in Trellis Bay, Beef Island we learned that the Annual Antigua Yacht Regatta was coming up. This is the premier racing event for the Caribbean. Boats that enter this regatta are racing machines. They are sleek, fast boats that are very new and modern. As part of this event for the last 29 years, there is a separate Regatta for Classic Yachts, of which Amanzi would belong. Classic yachts are the older, traditional sailing vessels with very few new components. Instead, they are often the original sailing racing vessels of years gone by. Sailing vessels like Canada’s Blue Nose (the ship on our 10 cent coin) are classic yachts. We didn’t think we would be able to enter the Regatta, as the deadline was long past. However, David contacted the Race Committee and to our surprise, we were invited to apply and immediately accepted! Now, it’s one thing to enter a regatta and race, it is quite another to prepare your boat for show. And this was all part of this particular regatta – the show. We would be amongst the most beautiful boats from all over the world, so we knew Amanzi needed to get ready for the Ball! Cutting our trip short in the BVI’s, we found the perfect weather window and left the BVI’s with fellow cruiser, John on s.v.Savvy who was as keen as us to be in the Regatta. A two night sail brought us into English Harbour on the south coast of Antigua, 37 hours later.

Getting ready for the ball

sv Savvy rafted up to Amanzi with all our stuff on Savvy's decks

sv Savvy rafted up to Amanzi with all our stuff on Savvy’s decks

Turning the boat back into her original beauty from a cruising boat, we knew we had our work cut out for us. After checking in with Customs and Immigration, we set to work immediately. We had 3 days to bring up Amanzi’s elegance. The saltwater had been very hard on Amanzi’s paint and varnish work and we knew we had to restore her as best we could. And all the gear we have when we cruise simply had to go. She had to be stripped down to her basics to show off her beauty.

So, rafting (or tieing) up to s.v. Savvy, we unloaded everything off the deck of Amanzi and stowed it on John’s boat. His boat changed into a barge! Here’s what we removed from the decks: 6 water and fuel jugs, tie down planks, life raft, ladder, 2 fishing poles, safety sling and life saving pole, BBQ & tank, wind generator and frame, bimini and dodger (sun and wind shades), and weather clothes (along the side), 300′ anchor chain and 2 anchors. Once everything was removed, we could see what had to be done.

We originally thought we would just fix up the toe rail – the wooden rail that runs along the deck of the boat. The toe rail gets alot of wear. However, after scraping off the old varnish, sanding the surface to make it smooth and then varnishing, it looked terrific. But there was no way we could stop there. The entire deck and cabin roof now had to be re-painted. And if that was going to be done, then we had to sand and varnish the cabin sides and cockpit. And we noticed the hull needed a few touch-ups. So, scraping, sanding and cleaning was the focus for Day 1 of the 3 days in 37 C temperature (at 7:30 AM it was 35 C). Day 2 was sanding, taping and painting the deck, cabin roof and the hull. Day 3 was varnishing the cabin sides and cockpit and painting the cockpit floor. The heat never let up and we didn’t count on volcanic ash from the volcano on nearby, Montserrat, to sprinkle the boat every night. So, cleaning up the ash was a regular part of the routine as well as touch-ups where ash landed ( and Billy left paw prints) on wet varnish or paint. Thursday arrived and we were ready to take her to Antigua Yacht Marina. Amanzi was ready for her debut. And to our surprise, as we were leaving English Harbour other boaters waved good-bye with warm wishes. An unexpected surprise.

As we motored into Falmouth Harbour, there was a Tall Ship entering the harbour, hundreds of visiting yachts anchored in the harbour, and beautiful yachts and classic wooden mega yachts all lined up at the docks. We had just come into a city of boats and this was going to be home for the next 4 days. Whoa! We were directed where to moor, so as I dropped our anchor, David skillfully reversed up to the edge of the dock. A number of people were on the dock ready to catch our lines and within minutes we were snugged up with our stern (back) next to Ticonderoga, a 72 foot (Herreshoff) ketch built in 1936. Her bow sprit towered over our cockpit. On the other side of us was Sincerity, an 88 foot (WIlliam Fife) ketch built in 1928.

Both these boats were incredibly gorgeous. Boats this size have professional crew – people who worked full-time on them to keep up their maintenance and sail them. Amanzi may have been dwarfed by these mega yachts, but she looked like she belonged. Shortly after we arrived and for the next 4 days, people stopped to enquire about her and tell us how beautiful she looked. It was a wonderful feeling and we both felt like proud parents.

Concourse D’Elegance (or the Ball)
As part of the many events that were happening with the Regatta there was the competition called the Concourse D’Elegance. Boats are judged based on how well they are maintained and lovingly cared for (professionally and privately, like Amanzi). So, feeling quite proud of Amanzi and optimistic we could get her ready, I entered us in this competiton 3 days earlier at registration. A panel of judges come on board your boat and inspect the work you do both on deck and down below in the cabin. On the morning of the judging, we were up at the crack of dawn cleaning, polishing, scrubbing and hiding any last minute items that needed attention. David worked on deck and I scrubbed down below. At 8:45 AM we were finished. By 9:30 AM the judges had not arrived, so David walked over to the Marina office. And of course, 3 minutes later, the 3 judges arrived. They came onboard, asked many questions, inspected the deck then went below. Thankfully Buddy was not scared, she just sat up and purred while one of the judges stroked her. Billy stayed in his usual hiding place up in the bow of the boat. As the judges came up into the cockpit again, David returned just in time. It was all over in a matter of minutes. Then we were told the announcement of winners would be made that evening at a reception.

We arrived at the reception and recognized a number of people who had stopped by to tell us how pretty Amanzi looked. It was nice to see friendly faces. Finally, it was time for the announcement of winners.

The class Spirit of Tradition was the category we thought we belonged to. This category includes vessels built in the last 25 years. With the 3rd place announced first, we were hopeful that we had placed in the top 2. Second place was announced and we were still hopeful, then first place was announced and it was not us. Both David and I were disappointed but as David said, At least we have a clean boat . David went to refill my champagne glass and when he returned, we heard “And for Classic yachts, (vessels over 25 years old) in 2nd place, AMANZI “! We couldn’t believe it. We had won 2nd prize and we laughed that we had confused the category we belonged. David beamed all the way to the stage to accept our award. All the hard work had paid off. We owed a big thank you to John on s.v. Savvy for all the hard work and encouragement he gave us, too. It was a very proud moment which stayed with us all the throughout the regatta.

More of the Regatta

sv Ranger a J5 sailing past us on Amanzi during the racing

sv Ranger a J5 sailing past us on Amanzi during the racing

Because this was such a special Regatta, I registered us for as many events as possible. We wanted to make sure we were active and enthusiastic participants. In the afternoon following the Concourse D’Elegance competition, David entered the single-handed race. All 31 competitors were allowed to have an observer onboard, so John joined David to take pictures of the racers and enjoy the ride. David takes part in single-handed racing on Lake Ontario but Ocean conditions are very different from Lake conditions. He had an excellent competition and finished in 4th place, overall. Great job, skipper.

Following the single-handed race, the next 3 days were the races for all 57 competitors. To the surprise of the locals as well as the Race Committee, on Day 1 the weather didn’t fully co-operate. It poured rain for most of the day but the winds blew 15 knots. So, it was a wet, wild race but the wind and water was warm. On Day 2 we had a crazy start with no wind on the start line. Even though there were 3 separate starts (15 minutes apart) all 57 boats ended up being incredibly close together (and I mean close). Some boats even drifted backwards and crossed the starting line twice. However within 30 minutes the wind picked up and again it was action-packed racing with winds up to 18 knots. Day 3 was a very different race. We called it the parade – where all the competing boats were reaching up to one turning mark and reaching back to a second mark, near the start; then back up to the first mark and finally returning to the finish line. (Reaching is easy sailing and you’re not sailing into the wind. This is the fastest point of sail for all boats). With 15 knots of wind, and gentle swells , it was an incredible opportunity to see all the boats (with flags representing countries from all over the world) passing each other. Amanzi and Simba I ( a 35 ft 1961 Cheoy Lee Lion from Nova Scotia) proudly flew the Canadian Flag. The race course was more like a celebration with everyone waving, blowing horns and taking photographs. We were amongst boats ranging in size from 135 feet down to 20 feet and boats built 10 years ago and the oldest boat built in 1898. (Racing classics like Ranger, Eleonora, Mariella, Ticonderoga and Ashanti of Saba, who all compete internationally in Europe, the Mediterranean, the US and here, easily glided past us). It was simply amazing. And it was a festive way to end an exciting race series.

In the evening, with the final announcement of race results and the awarding of prizes, there were cheers for everyone no matter how they placed. In our division, there were a total of 6 boats who were our competitors. Two of the 3 local boats from the Antigua Yacht Club placed 1st and 2nd and we were thrilled with our 4th place finish. It was a privilege to be with the royalty of sailing vessels and truly talented sailors and a magical and memorable event for us all.

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