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Antigua Sailing Week: the joy of the land

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 fifth dispatch.

Day 5 of Antigua Sailing Week is a lay day, a kind of Sabbath from sailing — well, sort of. While the captains and crews in the regatta get to relax, some of the more competitive sailors get into one-design boats for a mini-regatta off nearby Pigeon Beach. It is also an excuse for a great party with all the usual Caribbean trimmings: music, swimming, beer, barbecue, rum and more beer.

The races, a mere 50 yards from the beach, are narrated by some very colorful characters, such as Louay Habib, who writes the brilliant ASW race summaries each day. The sheer exuberance of the commentary kept the event lively, even if the winds powering the sailboats were a bit light.

There was another party on the beach, just a shout away, and at times the music and festivities seem to blend together, making for an even bigger beach party.

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For the record, “the Italians,” as they were referred to, won the mini-regatta against some serious local competition. “The Italians” were actually the At Last team, a Jeanneau 53 crew led by owner/skipper Roberto Carassa, who sailed brilliantly.

The RS Elite Challenge was sponsored by Nonsuch Bay Resort, and the winning prize was a week at this magnificent spot.

The other joy of lay day is that you get a chance to explore the town a bit. I wandered over to the National Sailing Academy. This is one of those organizations that gives you hope for the future of humanity. The NSA gives Antiguans who are less privileged the chance to go sailing.

Within the NSA there is another organization called Sailability Antigua. It makes sailing available to people who have disabilities or are otherwise challenged. Legendary distance sailor Geoff Holt was the inspiration for the program.Paralyzed after a swimming accident, Holt in 2007 sailed 1,445 miles alone around Great Britain in a 15-foot dinghy and, in 2010, he became the first quadriplegic to sail across the Atlantic single-handedly. Holt’s accomplishments as a sailor with disabilities earned him recognition from the queen of England.

My other wanderings took me to the street food stands, just outside the walls of Nelson’s Dockyard. Every night of the regatta, about a dozen stands with picnic tables are set up so that everyone can enjoy Caribbean home cooking. I have eaten the food of more than 10 Caribbean islands, and I can tell you the food here is just great.

My favorite place — and this is totally subjective, for all of the stands have highlights — is Gemma’s. She and her No. 2 chef prepare lobster, goat, chicken, pork, vegetables and traditional sides with all the flavors of the islands, combined with an authenticity that makes you believe love is a secret ingredient. Her whole extended family pitches in, so you’re welcomed as if you went to their family dinner. Spending a little time with them is valid compensation for not being on the water, as is eating their food.

Antigua and English and Falmouth harbors are more than just a regatta site, and even one lay day can give you a small insight into that larger reality.

In another note, there was news from Spirit of Juno, the Farr 65 I crewed on earlier this week.The crew on Tuesday took second in one of the races, their best finish yet. As I was not on board, I could only offer my heartfelt congratulations.

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.