by Louay Habib
The Inn Challenge Trophy took place yesterday (Wednesday 17 April) with a race to decide who will take up the Mariella Challenge, a match race against Carlo Falcone's stunning 79ft ocean going classic.
Pewter grey skies and squalls made conditions difficult during the race to decide who will compete against Mariella for The Inn Challenge Trophy taking place today in Antigua. Left to right: Vagabundo II, Dione and The Blue Peter
Yacht racing is never straight forward, maybe that is one of the really great attractions of the sport; you never really know what is going to happen. Antigua is blessed with a superb sailing climate, warm trade winds and beautiful ocean, but when it rains in the tropics it can be torrential. However, even under difficult conditions, the race management team from Antigua Yacht Club Marina produced a first class race course for the windward leeward race, outside English Harbour with the finish line in full view of The Inn, one of Antigua's most exclusive resorts. However, the luxury afforded to guests of The Inn was not evident on today's racecourse.
Turning the sky pewter grey and the water black as ink, two vicious squalls had a major impact on the winner of the race. Three beautiful classic yachts braved strong winds and torrential rain. The crews were soaked to the skin and trying to maintain control on slippery wooden decks, hauling huge sails by hand, was backbreaking work.
Mathew Barker's 1930's British classic, The Blue Peter, helmed by Italian Mauro Pellaschier, helmsman for Azzurra in the historic 1983 America's Cup, got away well to lead on the water, however having the highest handicap of the fleet, The Blue Peter needed to win the race by a considerable margin. Blue Peter extended on the fleet on the first upwind leg and even more so, after turning downwind outside English Harbour. By the time the leading yacht had reached the windward mark off Curtain Bluff, she was in a commanding position.
The beautiful German owned Fife, Dione designed and built in 1912 was the oldest yacht in the race and had sailed over 5,000 miles from Buenos Aires to take part in Antigua Classic Regatta. Shortly after the start, Dione tried to change her headsail to a jibtop and it all went wrong, when gear failure took away the option. Under reduced sail, Dione was severely handicapped.
Vagabundo II, the 1945 British owned ketch designed by German Frers Snr. was looking slow inshore, but the beautiful yacht was unable to tack out because Dione was covering her. However as Dione slowed down with their difficulties, Vagabundo II seized the opportunity to sail past their opponents. Dione fought back, catching up with Vagabundo II on the water, but was well behind on handicap.
The last leg of the Challenge Race was to prove decisive. Vagabundo II knew they had to make up time on The Blue Peter and they were not going to do that by just following the leader. Before another almighty squall fresh filled in from the east, Antiguan tactician, Karl James sailing on board Vagabundo II called the move, tacking further offshore to get to the right of the bitter weather.
The Blue Peter continued on and just before the brutal squall hit, Blue Peter was becalmed. Then a massive shift in wind direction affected their progress to the finish.
The squall was the savior for Vagabundo II, as the violent breeze filled in, the yacht was lifted towards the finish, making up considerable time on their opponents and after time correction, Vagabundo II was declared the winner by just over two minutes, winning a complimentary weekend stay at The Inn at English Harbour.
Vagabundo II will race Mariella for The Inn Challenge Trophy in a winner-takes-all final on Thursday 18th April
Vagabundo II was lovingly restored by its owner in England and had a major refit and The Antigua Slipway, in preparation for the Caribbean season.
Today (Thursday, 18th April), Vagabundo II will race Mariella for The Inn Challenge Trophy in a winner-takes-all final. Antigua Yacht Club Marina will once again expertly manage the racecourse.
The winner of The Mariella Challenge will keep the magnificent Rene Lalique crystal Victoire and will also have the honour of being the first name to be engraved on The Inn Challenge Trophy.