Are you headed down island to watch the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta, April 16–21, 2009, or to participate in Antigua Sailing Week, April 25 to May 1, 2009? These regattas were created to lengthen the Caribbean yachting season and to finish it off with a bang before the superyachts head to the Med or to the U.S. ahead of hurricane season, which starts on June 1.
Whilst these are sailing yacht events, each year sees a growth in the number of large motor yachts in attendance, either as support vessels or spectator platforms. If you are taking guests out to watch the races, it's worth getting hold of a copy of the regatta’s Sailing Instructions to find out where the yachts will be racing on a given day. The competitor yachts, particularly the Classics, need plenty of room to manoeuvre, and it can be difficult at times to know where they're heading.
During the races, the trade winds will blow from between NE and SE, usually, although closer to the coast, wind variation increases. Since the regattas are held on the south side of Antigua, the wind bends, most likely blowing in an E-SE direction. The average wind speed is a Force 4 (11 to 16 knots) with a nighttime effect through English and Falmouth Harbours, dropping the windspeed to light around dawn.
Within the flow of the trade winds, there will be some squalls. The leading edge of the squall will generally produce the strongest winds. Usually, winds will increase by 15 to 20 knots, although considerably more at times, and with the increase in wind comes heavy rain. As a rule of thumb, the greater the vertical extent of the cloud, the stronger the gust front will be. Large squalls will produce gale force gusts, or stronger, in an unstable atmosphere.
A current flows through the Caribbean chain from SE to NW and is at its strongest during periods of consistent trade winds. The current is usually between half to one knot, but can increase, particularly if the wind strength is above average, which has a significant effect on the courses that the racing yachts will likely take. When beating into the wind, the yachts will head towards the shore and shallow water to avoid the strongest current. Although many of the yachts are large with a deep draft, their navigators typically take them closer to the coast and into very shallow water in order to gain a competitive advantage. However, yachts will head offshore to gain an edge from the current when heading downwind – giving everyone on the course more sea room.
Watching the manoeuvring skills of race crew when in close proximity with one another is well worth the effort of a visit. Understanding the overall strategy and mechanics of the race will make these regattas more rewarding to watch, help you get a better position in the spectator fleet and keep spectators out of harm’s way.
Chris Tibbs is a meteorologist who previously worked as a skipper in the yachting industry. He is the author of the Onboard Weather Handbook (McGraw-Hill).
Will you be in attendance at this year's regattas?