10th May – Racing and cricket

This is what has been happening in the last month. A week after arriving, Ben started work at Woodstock Boatbuilders. A company set up by his boss, an Englishman who arrived 25 years ago aged 17 with a bag of tools. Ben is working on restoring a 44 foot racing sloop built in New York in 1945. I think he is pretty much in his element. We are making cash which we then spend. It’s a great easy existence. The girls started nursery. Then a few weeks later, Classics Race Week and the cricket began. Somehow the race committee decided to very generously admit Dhanu into Antigua Race week. So we took a few days off work and chores. As all participants were allowed free dockage in the marina, we pulled up the hook and went and docked alongside the great and the grand (not to mention, unspeakably wealthy) boats. Race week ran from Wednesday to Sunday with racing everyday from Thursday.

I’ve never raced. Anything really. Not least a yacht. So to have been able to participate was a real buzz. The experience being as welcome as it was bizarre. As we left the registration process at the yacht club, arms full of ‘free stuff’, t shirts, caps, a vintage bottle of rum, I did scratch my head and wonder how this grubby family of four from Devon had ended up in such a rarefied atmosphere. A thought brought squarely to the fore in the moment that Olive decided to do some rebel weeing on the floor of the yacht club during registration.

We were berthed in a very public spot. Right in the middle of the marina. Outside the marina office in fact. There for all to see. It was not always nice being so on display after the relative privacy of the anchorage. Where oh where could I hang nappies and knickers to dry discreetly? We did try and clear up the deck, but the clutter of children is not easy to hide on a 36 foot boat, outside or in. In the end, I accepted our role and jested with onlookers that we were the working family boat, not a show boat. (As if these things were not very obvious, given our lack of sheeny shine, varnish, gleaming chrome or crew). Nonetheless Dhanu’s pretty appeal must have spoken as loud as her snazzy sisters next door, as she still seemed to attract attention. Although I suspect it was the little sweaty kids swinging off the rigging that got them staring.

Anyway that aside, the aesthetic wonder of the regatta was obvious. Drop dead gorgeous beautiful boats. Mostly made of wood, but if not then constructed in the spirit of traditional boats. Some small, many big (100ft+). Some stunningly vast. Some privately maintained, others by way of paid professional crew. Crew identified by T-shirts bearing the name and diagram of the boat. Imagine terribly posh and glamorous ‘its a knockout’. Dhanu had no crew t-shirts on account of having no crew…no other boat had less crew.

Every morning we woke to find a bag of complimentary croissants and orange juice on deck. As we munched our way through them wondering again how it had come to this, we could see and feel the buzz and hum of activity as other boats prepared to race. Pristine sails were unfolded and refolded. Decks cleared. Things polished to gleaming point. All the while we sprawled out in our cockpit in the searing airless heat sweating and wondering what we would do with our day. ‘Are you racing today?’ we were asked. ‘No, not today’ came our reply. The truth was we were only interested in one race. The Cannon. Which was a 20 mile race involving a beam reach up and down a 5 mile stretch with no sailing to windward. The course was a straight line, south and back and then repeated. We wanted to do that race if only to be able to easily see the glory of the other boats under sail. Also the wind was pretty strong throughout race week, 20 knots plus. Too much for this little family boat. The Cannon was not until Saturday. So until then we hung out, watched the boats go and return. Heard the stories of wind and speed. One day, the boat berthed near us came back with skipper and crew looking concerned and a bit stressed. They had t-boned another boat and brought down her mast! This is racing I was told..ouch. No one hurt other than the owner’s wallet of the dismasted boat. They had just bought her and were yet to set foot on her soon after race week. How annoyed would you be!

Every evening there were complimentary nibbles and drinks in the sponsors tent in the marina. Wonderful we thought as we pilfered as much as we could knowing that if we did,we did not need to cook for the kids that night. Ben and I would tag team to and from the tent trying to sneak out as many tiny plastic plates of food to bring back to the chirping mouths of our young…whilst looking the rich and able squarely in the eye. Well, they weren’t even eating the food so what was wrong with a little Robin Hooding…?

Anyway, of course we could not race as there was international cricket to go and see. West Indies v England. Day four, first test in Antigua. So we hopped in a cab and headed for the Sir Viv Richards Stadium. The girls wore their Indian War Feathers ready for action.

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We entered the stadium shortly before England declared and then we got to see the WI bat. We were sat in the north stand below the commentary box, mainly surrounded by West Indians supporters. The stands were not full. But the voices were loud and unapologetic and musical. The girls crawled around and made friends with local kids. They were getting up to mischief the moment we sat down. I hardly watched the cricket, too busy fielding kids and soaking up the spectators. Olive was removed several times by strong polite security women as she climbed up to see the pitch. I cant blame her clambering for a better view. You realise how spoilt you are with TV coverage. I saw more cricket on the screen than with my own eyes. The players just looked like tiny legomen running about a green bit. Not that it mattered, just being there was fun.

I loved the fact that the old fashioned score board was still in action beneath the giant screen, the emblem of technology. Whereas the scoreboard, replete with strong looking round women with number tiles in hand, reminded me there are some things technology will never be able to beat.

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This one is for VOD – mum, Sir Viv…

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Come Saturday and we were ready for the Cannon. The bilges had been cleaned. Stuff stored away. Deck cleared. Finally we were racing. Due to our age (1969) we were placed in a class with Whitehawk. Whitehawk, a wooden classic. 105 foot. Winner of everything including this year’s Classics (and I think many preceding years too). Terrific. There was no chance of us winning anything. Not that we cared, as my mum always said ‘It is not the winning it is the taking part’. There have been many times in my life when I questioned her logic, race week was not one of them.

The scale of Whitehawk (see clip below) and others, Rainbow, Elena is unfathomable. Vast teak decks that surge forward like motorways. Jib sheets (sail ropes) the size of my arm, mooring lines the thickness of baguettes. Coach rooves that go on and on…multiple hatches to enter the boat. Millions of crew, all depersonalised in their identical crew t-shirts. One can only imagine the cabin and the size of things below. Whilst being awestruck by these stunning vessels, so too was I dumbfounded by the implicit wealth that bore them. A wealth that must be obscene and incredible and aloof. The privileged nature and elite exclusivity of it, I had to try to ignore. It represented not even a fraction of a fraction of most people’s reality. To think that private individuals owned these boats…if this was their boat what was their home like? And yet most of the people truly enjoying them seem to be the crew and others…anyway I will save all that slightly bitter, lopsided chippiness commentary about spoilt rich people for another day…and about my own wonky prejudices about them! Especially as there we were slap bang in the middle of it all. Trying not to squeal with excitement at the free croissant, or free drinks etc…hypocrite? Me? Anyway, here is a flavour of the quay…check out our competitor, Whitehawk.

So we headed out. The wind was fresh and the sea was bouncy and made confused by the wake of the boats ahead of us. Oh yes. Everyone was ahead of us. They came and passed us and went and then lapped us! It really did not matter. We were not in race mode. We sailed under number 3 jib and had two reefs in the main! This is like being on a formula one race course poottling along at 50mph whilst everyone else lets rip. We comforted ourselves that given the conditions, wee ones on board and a lack of crew, this did not matter. Despite our sail set up, downwind we were still doing 7 knots! Olive immediately retired to the foc’s’le in a grump. Alfi fell asleep in her carseat. She was on the windward side raised up high as the boat heeled over…she did not bat an eyelid.

Meanwhile, Ben and I gazed on in complete jaw dropping awe as the likes of Rainbow (130 foot J class) and Elena (130 foot Hereschoff) sped past. We didn’t even see Whitehawk so fast was she! Check out Rainbow followed by Elena. To watch them up close sent me a bit giddy…hence my gooey commentary…

This is Ben getting us into lightning form….we did try…

But as we were completing our first lap, Alfi seemed to have turned a pale grey. A minute after noticing this she puked a large amount. Odd we thought. 4500 miles of strong conditions largely downwind, no seasickness and one race on a choppy sea, and bam. Puke everywhere. As we cleared this up, we heard Whitehawk over the radio declaring they had finished the race (they had done 20 miles in the time it took us to do 10!). So whilst I wrung out Alfi pukewater from another shirt-become-rag we decided to call it a day. When your kids are puking, you can’t keep racing…anyway we were never going to win and had seen all the boats and had our needs met. We’d had a great day out. So we radio’d the committee boat to confirm our movements ‘sick child, heading in, our race over’. Once back we were declared a ‘DNF’ – did not finish. Haha I thought, was this the story of our lives…? But later on and around the social events and ‘food grab’ from the sponsor tent, people were kind and interested in us and kept asking ‘how is the little one? All better?’ Of course they would have heard our radio transmission. It was sweet to be the point of concern. We were the family boat after all. People sort of ahh’d and nodded and stroked the little children. In fact people were so positive towards us and them. I realise it was impossible for us not to have attracted attention and interest. People were bowled over when we answered their question ‘yes we really did sail all the way from the UK with the kids’…I joked, we could hardly leave them there…hoohoo.

At the awards ceremony at the end of the week, I heard our name over the PA system and saw a photo of Dhanu under sail, on a large screen. Woohoo! I whooped and jumped around and felt terribly proud only to be brought down to earth by Ben who grabbed my rum inspired bounciness and held it down firmly whilst mouthing loudly ‘WE CAME SIXTH OUT OF SIX.’ What did it matter – we were up there in lights! Afterwards I realised how ridiculous I looked but who cares. A kind young fit looking man whom I recognised as crew from another boat, congratulated us which I stupidly mistook for look-down-your-nose-from-your-big-deck-sarcasm which resulted in a vocal tirade from me about how what we were doing was really hard and that we had no crew and that whilst other boats were pulling in jib sheets, we were doing nappy changes and clearing up puke and that is why we had two reefs in the main. Poor boy. I thought I had been amusing in a wild forceful kind of way, but looking back I realise that was not the case. He ended the conversation by saying how impressed he was by what we were doing with our family. Oh dear. O’Donnell+rum=chippy roaring…note to self…don’t do that again. I did later apologise which he readily accepted in a very serious tone, I think just wanting me out of his hair. I don’t blame him. Oh rum rum rum…

So Classics came to an end and we sloped back to the cool and calm of the anchorage. Ben went back to work and life resumed some semblance of normality. Which in the off duty times was spent at Pigoen Beach, off which we were anchored.  The perfect beach.  Unspoilt.  No buildings.  Some shade.  Always a cook up on the weekend with local BBQ’s.  Always music on the weekend.  Always beautiful water…it took a minute to dinghy there from the boat. We spend a lot of time there…

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Olive with her first crush, Sammy.

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Hanging around on Pigeon beach…

Life is good…

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3 Responses to 10th May – Racing and cricket

  1. Harriett palin says:

    How brilliant to read all about life there, it looks wonderful. The race was so funny. Well done for having a go! Atleast you will never regret missing out on the action. Bravo. Even if you did applaud yourself for last place… Hilarious. Can see that playing out ! Love the video clips and pics. The bare bottoms and the story of the poor young crew member getting your wrath when he was just trying to be complimentary about your efforts! Oh Phily! Poor lad…. Cringe. Face+Palm !! Ben looks like a bronzed whippet ! Lean mean sailing machine. Love to all. The girls looks adorable and healthy and golden, great job. Hx

  2. Niki says:

    Wow! You jammy lot. What an amazing time you’ve been having. So glad it’s living up to expectations- and some ! Bet u were talk of the regatta, esp with the alfi’s antics. The best thing is that u so totally deserve this wonderful life. Fab that you’re reaping rewards for all that bloody hard work. I showed the kids some of your videos and Olly sad sadly ‘it’s not the same without them’. I agree, but wouldn’t wish you back here for a second. We can spare u a bit longer if you carry on making the absolute bloody most of it. Loads of love . Nx

  3. Claire Davenport says:

    Always a pleasure to read your posts, Brett and I are so thrilled you are having such a wonderful time. Lots of love always, Claire, Brett, Bonnie and Atlanta xxxx

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