There was no hanging around after the BVI Regatta. We sailed Dorade straight back to Antigua to make sure we had the time to get her looking beautiful ready for the arrival of a new team and the start of Antigua Classic Week. It is not often that race prep involves varnishing and adding weight to the boat but in order to have Dorade looking her best, we hung the wooden doors below decks, put in the wooden panelling to hide modern electronics and of course varnished anything with even a hint of imperfection.
The distinctive nature of the Dorade program, means that we are not restricted to racing in just classic events, we are actually more used to lining up against modern yachts. As Falmouth Harbour began to fill up with boats that actually bore a passing resemblance to Dorade, it was like we had travelled back in time by 100 years. Gone were the carbon rigs parked next to us in the RORC 600 and instead we were surrounded by a forest of wooden masts. We are used to finding the boat in a busy marina by way of being the only wooden rig but now we were surrounded by them.
The ladies team, the brainchild of Pam and assembled by JJ Fetter flew in two days in advance of the racing in order to learn the ropes and more importantly bond as a team. It is no small task creating a successful team in such a short space of time but to be able to accomplish that as well as learning how to manage a yacht capable of flying five sails simultaneously with every rope being the same colour is a big ask. The two training days demonstrated the immense skill of the sailors on board, many of whom brought experience from Olympic and America’s Cup campaigns. Of course we trained in idyllic conditions with 12 -15 knots, blue skies and about as friendly a sea state as Antigua offers. We flew jibs, kites, staysails, reefed, checked calibration, discussed tactics and navigation and watch a bow team who had never worked together before do a remarkable job.
Come race start however, the wind gods decided to test us. Firstly a 17-19 knot day then a 19-23 then up to 28 knots before a final race of 19-22 knots. For a well rehearsed team on a classic yacht this is a substantial amount of wind but for us as a new team it was a real test. A test I am proud to report that we passed with flying colours. Apart from a hank, we sustained no damage when boats around us reported breakages. We raced hard, unafraid to throw in sail changes, even ones we had not practised and pushed the boat and crew constantly around the the 20+ mile race courses. We decided to place ourselves with a spinnaker rating, hoping that the race committee would tweak the first mark to allow for spinnaker runs but we did not get lucky with this. The courses were largely upwind or reaching which benefits those yachts with a longer waterline. After three races in which we placed fourth, we set out on the final day to try and reach that elusive podium. With some very close racing at times, some great team work, much improved communication on board and some well executed tacking, the team finally docked with a podium position, a well earned third place.
Antigua Classics week was a fantastic experience. To see all of those beautiful yachts powered up and still racing many decades after they were built is incredible. Dorade of course stood out. Even being smaller and more slender than most of the competition, Dorade has an enchanting presence and as the commentator at the parade of sail said, “Dorade, a yacht so famous there is no description I can give that would do her justice”.