Though weather gurus and insurance companies declare hurricane season to ‘officially’ run from about June 1 to November 30, the peak activity is usually around September and October. Antigua Sailing Week, which happens toward the end of April, was created as a kind of last hurrah for island sailing after which most transient boats start to migrate north or south to get out of the hurricane belt and comply with their insurance companies’ requirements. The combination creates the impression that no sensible sailor would visit after Sailing Week.
Despite this, locals know that May, June and July are among the best weeks to be in the islands. We visited Bay Area friends Astrid Deeth and Bo Stehlin who, with brother Paul Deeth, run The Admiral’s Inn in English Harbour. Checking out the off-season conditions, our one-week experience reminded us you should always listen to the locals.
The weather this time of year was considered nice enough that the International Optimist Class decided to bring 260 Opti sailors from 65 countries to race the Opti Worlds July 6-16. The racing is being hosted by the Antigua Yacht Club in classic Caribbean trade winds right outside English Harbour. While we were there, the boats were arriving by the container load, and youth director Karl James of the Antigua Yacht Club plus volunteers and staff were gearing up for a busy event ahead.
English and Falmouth Harbours, which are normally packed to the gills with charter boats, megayachts and cruising boats during the busy winter months, were as peaceful as could be. Many locals miss the activity, but also were happy to take a breather from the frenetic activity of the winter-sailing season. If you’re a charterer who’d like to cruise at a quieter time with more room in the anchorages and less mayhem ashore, this would be the time of year to go. This is harder to justify if you live in the Northeast, where the summer months are your cherished break from winter. But, if you’re from California or the South, this could make a lot more sense. Restaurants in Antigua do start to close down between August and November 1 so, generally, there’s still plenty of life and services ashore through July.
On the Falmouth Harbour waterfront, the local National Sailing Academy of Antigua was busy with junior programs provided to the public with grants and donations from locals and visiting yachtsmen. It was started as part of the Antigua Yacht Club, but outgrew the facilities, and had to set up its own base across the harbor. Talking to founder and executive director Elizabeth Jordan, the Academy sounded like the many community sailing programs on the Bay — with one exception. Because of the scale of the Antigua sailing industry, they teach sailing not only as a form of recreation, but as a way to learn about the environment or gain the skills to turn it into a career path.There are many locals who started sailing with the Antigua Yacht Club or the Academy who are now crew on the many large yachts that pass through, or who are involved in the local marine trades providing services to the many visiting vessels.
In the Bay Area, we’re used to teaching sailing for racing or pleasure, while the local marine industry is left to its own devices when looking for skilled tradespeople and crew. Incorporating the possibility of a sailing career in youth sailing could provide a valuable service to local marine businesses and a beneficial option for youth program participants.
During our stay, the weather was as good as it gets. Plenty of sunshine, warm temperatures and fresh trade winds to keep it all comfortable. We daysailed Paul Deeth’s California-built Columbia 5.5 Iris J, swam an almost empty Freeman’s Bay at the mouth of English Harbour, hiked the hills, and climbed to Shirley Heights for the sunset and steel band — which still collected crowds for the Thursday- and Sunday-evening events. The sailing scene didn’t have the energy of the conga lines, wet T-shirt contests and copious rum drinks that traditionally accompany Antigua Sailing Weeks of the past, but the tropic heat, beat and vibe make for an idyllic alternative Caribbean cruising season.
Finding time to sail Antigua in the off season seems like a perfect idea. There are charter boats available for significant discounts off peak-season rates, the weather is ideal, the trade winds are still blowing, and even Opti sailors are handily managing the wind and seas in their eight-foot prams. For those of us from the Bay Area, if Antigua in the off season fits your calendar, we think it looks like the perfect time to escape San Francisco’s Mark Twain ‘winter.’