Classics Race in Antigua

An end-of-the-season regatta brings out the racer in normally relaxed cruisers. From "Passage Notes" in our August 2008 issue

Long White Cloud 368

Paula and Stephen Pepperell built Long White Cloud in their front yard in New Zealand.Jeremy McGeary

As April draws to a close, the sun shines almost directly down on Antigua, as if to highlight the activity that heralds the approaching close of the winter sailing season in the Caribbean. Boats that have been cruising in the Windwards and Leewards converge on this traditional departure point, and each day, a chorus of horns salutes a vessel setting off to its summer destination.

From such gatherings do regattas draw life. First, in 1967, came Antigua Sailing Week, born of a spontaneous discharge of pent-up relaxation among charter-boat owners and crews. In 1988, by which time Sailing Week was on the grand-prix racing circuit, the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta was instituted as being more appropriate for the elegant elders of the charter fleet. Now supported by Panerai, the Italian watchmaker, it attracts sailboats of all types and sizes from all over the world.

For Martin Thomas, an Englishman, the opportunity to watch a match or two of the Cricket World Cup 2007 in a Caribbean stadium was reason enough to sail Charm of Rhu, a 39-foot Archie MacMillan-designed sloop, across the Atlantic from Falmouth, England, to Antigua. With the added attractions of an Ocean Cruising Club rally and the Antigua regatta to round out the season, it was, Martin says, "game, set, and match, really."

Martin, a surgeon, spliced his cruising time between periods of work, sailing Charm of Rhu first to Lanzarote, in the Canary Islands, and from there to Antigua. His regular crew for passages is his cousin, Dick. "If time was no object, I might do the longer passages," says Vivien, Martin's wife. She's an anesthesiologist and can't wangle as much time off as he does.

Charm of Rhu is a wooden 8-Meter cruiser/racer. She was built in 1963 at Fife's, in Fairlie, Scotland, the last boat, Martin believes, to emerge from that legendary yard. In Antigua, she found herself in the company of her big siblings, Sumurun, Belle Aventure, and Mariella, in their fully restored glory.

Shortly after Charm set off from the Canaries, Dick, reporting water over the floorboards, asked Martin, "Is this normal?" "Yes," Martin replied, hoping that the cause was simply that Charm had dried out a little while on the hard for two months. Soon enough, the planks swelled, and Charm was dry for the remainder of the passage. Vivien joined Charm in Antigua to sail in the Ocean Cruising Club rally and in the Antigua regatta.

Charm's pedigree is apparent, not only in her lovely varnished hull but also in the way she sails. If the cricket was something of a disappointment (England played miserably), the regatta provided a stirring close to the winter cruise. Charm of Rhu took third in one of the most competitive classes, and Martin sailed her to fifth place in the singlehanded race in a field of 25.

Leaving the whole of Classic Class D, including Charm of Rhu, in her long white wake, was Long White Cloud, a 45-foot, cold-molded wooden Herreshoff Mobjack ketch from Hamilton, New Zealand.

Owners Stephen and Paula Pepperell built Long White Cloud in their front yard and launched her in 1996. They'd acquired her as an abandoned skeleton of frames and backbone, then spent several years completing her. Stephen, an electrical contractor, did a great deal of the work himself, hiring specialists when needed; the interior, finished in classic Herreshoff style but with a modern layout and conveniences, is a stunning example of how that strategy paid off.

In seven years of cruising, Stephen and Paula have sailed nearly 40,000 miles and visited many of the cruising ports of call along the westbound Indian Ocean route: Thailand, the Maldives, Seychelles, the eastern coast of Africa, and across the Atlantic to Brazil.

The Pepperells are proud of their New Zealand heritage and named their boat to honor the Land of the Long White Cloud. Everywhere they go, people know what it means, and often hail them in its Maori version. "Aotearoa is so hard to pronounce," says Paula, "and I can't even say it quickly." "It would be impossible to use on the radio," says Stephen, "but this way, it's worked really well. People make the connection."

Long White Cloud's characteristic Herreshoff look sets her apart from modern cruising boats and guarantees that she gets lots of attention wherever she goes. "One of the things we really enjoy about our boat is that she's a classic," says Paula, "and we try to keep her in classic condition." Obviously, the work that statement implies doesn't intimidate them. Their diligent approach to maintenance has spared them serious breakdowns. And the racing provides opportunities to test the boat's mettle by sailing her harder than they normally would.

"When we race the boat, we push her," says Paula, "but we're in a controlled situation, with people on board who know what to do when something happens." While they were racing in the St. Martin Classic Yacht Regatta in January 2007, the headstay parted. With capable hands to help, they were able to brace the mast with a spare halyard, lower the stay complete with sail and foil, set the staysail, and go on to win the race.

When Marla Linder and Kaj Huld sailed south from Boston on Apsara, their 31-foot, Frederick Geiger-designed wooden ketch, their plan was to be away from home and work for a year. That was in 2001. It took them a year to reach the Caribbean, picking their leisurely way through the Bahamas to Puerto Rico. From there they sailed to Bonaire, and they've since cruised much of the eastern Caribbean.

Apsara was built in Denmark by Knut Peterson in 1960; Kaj and Marla acquired her in late 1995. "She was in pretty good shape when we bought her," Kaj says, "and most of her is original still." While they refitted her, they managed to get her sailing every summer. "Mind you, we didn't always get her in the water by the Fourth of July," says Marla. "Isn't there some sort of penalty for that?"

Taking part in classic regattas gives Kaj and Marla an opportunity to mix with like-minded cruisers, though it's not without risks. In their first Antigua Classic in 2005, they found themselves in a mark-rounding melee among bigger boats, one of which T-boned Apsara, taking out her mizzen and breaking her bowsprit. The offending boat's insurer paid up, but Kaj and Marla had to spend a year in Antigua effecting repairs.

Apsara was looking her best at the 2007 Antigua regatta, which of course elicited the usual questions about maintaining wooden boats with lots of paint and varnish. "I spend a little time on it," says Kaj. "He spends his whole life doing it," Marla interjects. Kaj shrugs, and smiles, with the look of a man who enjoys working on the love of his life. "Apsara's older than I am, but she's been taken care of a lot better," says Marla, ruefully.

Now they're heading north to New England so Marla can take a job-"Know anyone who needs an IT project manager?"-while Kaj, a mechanical engineer by trade, prepares to build them a new boat, this one to his own design.

And the racing in Antigua? "Wandering Albatross is our nemesis," says Marla, about the boat that narrowly beat Apsara out of first place in Classic Class A.

Wandering Albatross is a Westsail 32, sailed by Chris Lamond and Mary Liz Hepburn. The boat has an electric drive for auxiliary propulsion, the batteries for which can only be charged from shore power. Fully charged, they provide about six hours run time at about three knots. Chris and Mary Liz are usually a long way from a dock, so they use the motor only about 1 percent of the time. It's no surprise that they've learned to sail Wandering Albatross in all weather and can parlay that skill into silver. In 2005, despite light airs, they took second place in the George-Town Cruising Regatta in the Exumas.

This was their first time in the Antigua regatta and their first time in Antigua, too. How do they account for their success? "Well, we have telltales for starters," says Chris. "We don't overload the boat, and we have five headsails for different wind conditions."

Chris, originally from Massachusetts, learned to sail singlehanded on a Com-Pac 19, then on a Catalina 25, when he was on a year's leave of absence from his job as a natural-resources manager in Alexandria, Virginia. Mary Liz, who's from Suffern, New York, considered herself a neophyte sailor when they bought Wandering Albatross in 2003.

Setting off from St. Augustine, Florida, in November 2004, Chris and Mary Liz sailed through the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos, then to Luperon, in the Dominican Republic, where they sat out the 2005 hurricane season. The following winter, they sailed to Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Trinidad.

After the 2006 hurricane season, they sailed north through the Windwards and Leewards. The only two harbors where they felt compelled to use the motor to get in were Rodney Bay, St. Lucia, and at Marie-Galante, off Guadeloupe.

Wandering Albatross and her crew stand out from the modern cruising crowd even when not on the podium. "We always sail up to the anchor and off the anchor," says Mary Liz, something they rarely see anyone else do. And they don't have refrigeration or other high-draw electrical appliances.

"We're younger than average for full-time cruisers," says Chris. "We feel like we needed to make decisions on whether we wanted to work longer to pay for luxuries or leave sooner. We're both in agreement that living without them has been worth the freedom of doing it now."

Jeremy McGeary, a CW contributing editor, lives in Virginia.