Antigua Sailing Week: reflections on a week in paradise

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Jonathan Russo is a passionate sailor from New York who took a break from the Northeast spring and headed to the Caribbean for Antigua Sailing Week, where he is filing daily reports for Soundings. This is his seventh and final dispatch.

What I like most about Antigua Sailing Week is the wind. As an East Coast sailor, the reliability of the Caribbean wind as it blows across Antigua simply amazes me. When I wake up and the wind is already blowing 13 knots, my whole day is set for happiness.

Every day at ASW is a sailing day. Not one start was postponed, not one race abandoned, for lack of wind. It’s taken for granted that there will be no floating around baking in the sun or having to motor home in frustration. The five days of racing, plus the day-long round-the-island race are, to me, just the right amount of sailing.

The author is all smiles with Gemma, the owner and head chef at his favorite Antigua restaurant.

The event is well organized. Everything works. This may be the Caribbean, but the organizers have created a frustration-free event. The racing classes are well sorted out and make sense. Races start on time and have logical, well-marked courses. The days have a predictability that lets you concentrate on your sailing skills.

Race prizes are always in the same place, and the post-prize parties and events are known weeks in advance. Planning your schedule is simple. The entertainment is first-rate, the musical performances totally enjoyable.

Falmouth and English harbors are the perfect venue. Everything is very easy to access. The boats are in either of the two harbors, each a short walk to the other. The chandleries, events, restaurants, stores and swimming are nearby. I stayed at the Ocean Inn and was able to get everywhere in minutes. No need for a car.

And then there’s the camaraderie. Like all regattas, ASW is a total immersion into the sport of sailing — all accomplished in an egalitarian spirit. The largest, fastest and most elegant boats and their crews socialize with a crew on a Beneteau 35 in what appears to be a lack of elitist silliness. It is easy to walk right up to a famous sailing personality and strike up a conversation. Chances are you will be answered and engaged without a second thought.

The Antiguans: I have been all over the Caribbean for decades and dislike generalizations in general, but here is one, anyway. The people of Antigua are among the most enjoyable to be around. Antiguans are entrepreneurial and proud of their island. They also possess one of my favorite traits — a keen appreciation of the absurd and ridiculous. When you are among Antiguans, just look around. Smiles, gentle teasing and laughter are the norm. I try not to take myself too seriously, and I love the Antiguans for sharing that sensibility with me.

Nelson’s Dockyard: I really like being at this historic site. The old brick and wood buildings, the huge outdoor ship works and the integration of these into a modern, useful setting are paradoxically very romantic. I love adaptive re-use of architecture. The vibrancy of the restaurants, inns and retail stores really should win all sorts of architectural awards. There is never a moment I do not enjoy being in this Georgian shipyard complex.

The food: We all love to eat, and ASW really has a wide variety of good food. You can eat the simplest Caribbean street food, cooked with local love, or have a four-star “continental” dinner with vintage champagne. There’s even fresh sushi. There is, of course, no shortage of beer, wine or rum.

These are my top reasons for loving ASW. If you head down for next year’s regatta, I am sure you’ll find some of your own.

Jonathan Russo has been sailing for more than 30 years. His home port is Shelter Island, N.Y., and he sails his Sabre 38, Sachem, extensively in New England waters.