Over the years, I’ve had the distinct pleasure of competing in a few sailboat races. Okay, make that a ton of boat races. And I have to say, with regard to the crewmembers I’ve had the privilege to sail with, I’ve seen most every form of behavior imaginable, from anger, disappointment, and dismay, to surprise, satisfaction, and joy. The majority have been sportsmen and sportswomen in the truest sense of the word, though I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I’d encountered a few wankers and whiners along the way. Until yesterday, however, I’d never sailed with anybody who lost it completely, who melted down like Three Mile Island and ended up bawling like a baby.
Herb McCormick| |Chris Bolwyn, Chrissy Slayden and daughter Ellie — the youngest sailor at Antigua Sailing Week — are all smiles once the race is finished. | So I have to hand it to Ellie Slayden, the first sailor I’d ever seen who was brought to uncontrollable tears by a sailboat race. But I don’t blame Ellie at all, and completely understand what the fuss was about. After all, Ellie Slayden is nine months old, and if she isn’t the youngest crewmember in the 40-year history of Antigua Sailing Week, she has to be damn near close.
It’s Lay Day here in Antigua, at the midway point of this annual Caribbean rite of spring. After three days of competition in what’s becoming a memorable edition of Sailing Week-yes, it really is 40 years ago that the regatta began, and there’s a huge birthday party planned today to commemorate the milestone-the sailors in the 204-boat fleet are kicking back and enjoying a well-earned day of rest. There’ve been a few squalls and lulls so far, but for the most part the conditions have been absolutely ideal, and yesterday it blew the dogs off the chains, with the easterly trades pumping at 20 knots and more, and with big, blue seas coursing down the race track. Sailors come to Antigua to revel in the breeze, and the breeze thus far has happily cooperated.
All that brings us to yesterday. I’m here in Antigua working on a couple of stories for Cruising World and Sailing World, and my assignment for the latter is to jump on as many boats as possible and experience the regatta from several perspectives in the fleet.
On Sunday I sailed with a bunch of local Antiguans and on Monday I hopped aboard a Swan chartered by a hilarious group of Australians, excellent sailors who kept me laughing hard all day long.
Then came Tuesday, and the folks from Gunboat catamarans invited me to join their fun. It’s been a long time since Sailing Week was open to multihulls-so long, in fact, that no one on the race committee can tell me exactly when or why they were originally banished-but this year Peter Johnstone at Gunboat petitioned the organizers to reconsider the cat and tri crowd and was thrilled when they told him that if they got the numbers, they’d be welcomed back. So there are now two multihull divisions, one racing and one cruising, and the gang at Gunboat is enjoying a waterborne coming-out party, with three Gunboat 48s in the mix as well as a Gunboat 62 called Looking for Elvis.
The Slayden family is originally from Oregon but now calls Las Vegas home-we’ll get to that in a minute-that is, when they’re not aboard their sleek, fast, 62-foot cat. Bruce and Nora Slayden once cruised the Pacific Ocean aboard an Island Packet 48, and while they loved their monohull and enjoyed a wonderful voyage, they were ready to move up to something more spacious and with a genuine turn of speed. They first bought a Gunboat 48 but when the 62 came on the used-boat market, they snapped her up and couldn’t be happier. After Antigua, they’re headed for Valencia and the America’s Cup.
The Slaydens, along with skipper Travis McGarry and his mate Ana Schor, sail as a family, and this week their daughter Chrissy is aboard, along with her husband Chris and, of course, granddaughter Ellie. They were planning on popping their asymmetric yesterday for the very first time and were looking for an extra pair of hands. I was more than happy to oblige.
After a couple of days of thrashing around the racecourse on a pair of very different monohulls, stepping aboard the Gunboat was a revelation. We trucked upwind at a good 10 knots and off the breeze we regularly clocked along at double-digit speeds, topping off at more than 16 knots on a blistering reach. You pull the strings on a Gunboat from a forward cockpit, and it can get a little wild and wooly out there when the spray is flying on the beats, but even then you can just step aft into the big, roomy, central cabin, shut the door, and revel in the respite. The platform is level, you can put your beer down and it won’t spill, and it all seems just so very-what’s the word?-civilized.
Herb McCormick| |Elvis lives? He does in the visage of Bruce Slayden, skipper of Looking for Elvis. | For added amusement, the Gunboats were using the occasion to get some great photos, courtesy of former Gunboat owner and ace professional photographer Clint Clements, who hired a chopper for some aerial shots. Remember that part about Las Vegas? To spice up the pictures, at one point Bruce disappeared below and popped on deck dressed like Elvis, which was another first for me. Looking for Elvis? Indeed.
Everyone was having a blast with the exception of poor Ellie, who on the first beat of the second race let it be known that bashing to weather, even on a ride as cushy as a Gunboat, was in no way something she appreciated. She cried and cried and cried until we turned the corner and headed downwind. Then, silence. Little Ellie, the not-so-stoic young sailor, was fast asleep.
Later, someone on another boat told me they’d seen a whale. That’s always cool. But thanks to Ellie, I now have a new wail story of my own.
Herb McCormick is an editor at large for Cruising World and Sailing World magazines.