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Jol Byerley's Feb 07 Letter from Antigua

I really find it very strange that Christmas, despite being only once a year, comes bounding along towards us at twice the speed of anything else. By the time you read this, we will be well into next year and, before you know it, summer time will once again be on us and those rather horrid things called hurricanes hide around the corner. Anyway, to all of you who may read All at Sea, we would like to wish a healthy, wealthy, and wise 2007.

Did you know that having had Seb Clover single-hand a Contessa 32 from the UK to Antigua, he naturally became (at age 15) the youngest person to do so? Now, a 14 year-old is about to arrive in our little island of Antigua having single-handed across the very lonely Atlantic all the way from Gibraltar in his “Tide” 28 called Cheeky Monkey. Whereas Seb Clover was accompanied in another similar boat by his dad Ian, our 14 year-old, Michael Perham, is due to arrive sometime next week closely followed by his father Peter in an identical boat. Now, this annual decrease in age has got to stop soon as, before we know it, somebody will have to fill the captain’s feeding bottle!   Anyway, we will have photographs and such like for you in the next edition of All at Sea. So remember the name of Michael Perham.

Now at the moment, our friend Oliver Greensmith, who owns Antigua Boatbuilders on the shore of Falmouth Harbour, has flown to the UK on a mission. He is attempting to find a boat that I remember well from many years ago. This little vessel, which looks like a mini 6 Metre, is exactly the sort of thing in which old pharts like myself would thoroughly enjoy racing round a course inside Falmouth Harbour, then up and back to a marker off English Harbour. Having owned fairly large boats during the entirety of our charter career, and then at a latter stage being more than content with our racing boats such as the Dehler 34 Hightide, the Olson 30 Riptide, the Contention 33 Encore, and the S & S 34 Morning Tide, I sort of feel that this little 6 Metre type could be a lot of fun ! So again watch this space and we will let you know what is happening.

Many people feel compelled to ask which of these four similar size boats we liked best. Well, they were all so different. But I have to say that the 30 ft Californian-built Olson 30 Riptide was, for sheer blazing speed, far and away the most exciting. This was of course down wind.  Up wind, the 33ft Peterson-designed Encore took a lot of beating and, believe it or not, our much-loved S & S Morning Tide won more than her fair share of silver. But to be absolutely honest, the last boat, the Dehler 34 Hightide remains our favourite of all. We cruised in her, raced in her, and won with her. She was good looking, comfortable, and—if she had a fault—she required loads of buxom, topless young ladies to hold her down in a blow! Somebody e-mailed us the other day and wanted to know if I would object to him calling his boat The Spirit of Jol Byerley in Sailing Week with a crew of topless young ladies. My reply was short and sweet:  “Times have changed. Go for it if you have the guts.”

Jol Byerley arrived in Antigua in 1957 to captain Commander Vernon Nicholson's schooner Mollihawk. Two years later he bought the first of his many own yachts, Ron of Argyll. She was followed by the 73ft Alden gaff schooner Lord Jim. In 2004 he was awarded a G.O.M. by the Governor General of Antigua and Barbuda for long service to yachting.

Perhaps you would allow me to take you back into 1950 when my mother and father and I lived on the banks of the River Thurne just south of Potter Heigham on the Norfolk Broads in England. With my dear old dad, Major A.M. Byerley, M.C., my good friend Eric Smith and myself started the “Potter Heigham Snow Flake Sailing Club” to race dinghies throughout the winter on an ice cold stretch of river. One of the events was a pursuit race, called for some unknown reason a Chinese start. It became hugely popular!

Anyway, 36 boats from the 115 foot Sojana to a 28 foot Van de Stadt turned out for the Nelson’s Pursuit Race on New Years Eve 2006 just the other day off the south coast of Antigua. The race commemorates Nelson’s pursuit of the French Fleet which ended in the Battle of Trafalgar! For this sort of race the yachts start at a pre-arranged time with the idea being that everyone finishes together and they all know how they are doing throughout the race!

It turned out that the racing was really excellent, the sea was mottled by cloud shadow, and there was about 17 to 20 knots of wind. The fastest boat around the course, the 100 foot brand-new Swan Virago, took 98 minutes but many of the smaller boats took more than double that time. It says a lot for the Antigua Yacht Club’s Tommy Paterson, who worked out the handicaps very effectively! The course was a reach, a run and a beat.

From where I watched the race up at Turtle Rock, the conditions looked to be just about perfect. The entire fleet had bunched up with only about two miles to go, and my old dad would have been delighted with this sort of racing. But here in Antigua the average temperature was 80 degrees Fahrenheit!
In Classic Class, Carlo Falcone’s beautiful Fife-built Mariella was first, Paul Deeth’s 50ft Petrana was second, and third place went to the one time Dutch man Hans Lammers at the helm of Sunshine. Cruising Class was won by Wild Thing, second went to one time Aussie John on Queequeg, and third place went to Horizon. Racing Class saw Richard Mathew’s Shaggy getting home ahead of Shannon Falcone driving Abracadabra, and third place to the ageless Lost Horizon (once our Riptide) driven, as usual, by Jamie Dobbs. Cruiser Racer Class saw the Dutch built Heidenskip be the first boat to cross the finish line and win her class while second place went to Streaker sailed by Scotsman Sandy Mair, third was a Beneteau 47.7, Sailplan. Multihull Class was taken by Rusty Pelican.

Overall Winner 
1st Heidenskip
2nd Streaker
3rd Sailplan.
Best Elapsed time Virago 98 minutes 12 seconds.

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