Ira Epstein — long of Bolinas, and more recently of St. Barth and the Robert Clark-designed 65-ft ketch Lone Fox — told us that he was happy to get back to the dock with nothing broken after each of the four races of last week’s 26th annual Antigua Classic Regatta.
"It was the roughest regatta I’ve ever sailed in," said Epstein, who was the overall winner of the previous two Classics and a veteran of five others. "Saturday had the nastiest weather, with winds in the mid-20s gusting to 30. But it wasn’t the wind so much as the seas, which were nine feet with just a seven-second period. Everybody got soaked, and my bowman was underwater the entire time."
Epstein’s evaluation of the conditions was conservative compared to that of some other very experienced skippers. "Man, it was ferocious out there!" said Scott DiBiaso, the much-respected captain of the 65-ft schooner Juno. "By Saturday there were seas 12 feet and higher, and one right after the other."
Big short-period seas are hard on all boats, but hardest on classic wooden yachts with wooden spars. Five spars in the record 65-boat fleet were lost on Saturday alone, and many were surprised there wasn’t more damage. Fortunately, there was only one main mast lost, that of the gorgeous 65-ft Blue Peter. Her mast split lengthwise and snapped horizontally. The cause of the dismasting was apparently a chainplate pulling out. If the dock talk is to be believed, all the other chainplates had recently been replaced on the 80-year-old boat.
The rough conditions had lots of other skippers fearing for their spars. DiBiaso said he’d never seen mighty Juno‘s wood bowsprit or masts bend so much. "We always push it, but we were pushing it twice as hard as in any previous regatta because we sailed neck-and-neck the entire time with the 75-ft schooner Adventuress, just out of a three-year refit. After four races and 100 miles of racing, often within a stone’s throw of each other, only 34 seconds separated us. Fortunately, 34 seconds in our favor."
But Juno‘s spars held. It’s a good thing, too, because it’s the end of her Caribbean season and she’s headed back to the Vineyard tomorrow. With any luck, she’ll be there in 10 to 12 days.
This year’s overall winner in the Classic was the 94-ft Sumurun, built by Fife in 1914. "She was unbelieveable, as she didn’t reef the entire regatta, but stood straight up," said DiBiaso.
Unlike the America’s Cup, there is a second in the Classic, and it was claimed by Epstein’s Lone Fox. Actually, just about every boat gets one award or another.
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