Antigua’s Best Sailing Regattas

These spirited competitions draw sailors from around the world


Antigua has welcomed sailors since the days of tall ships, and was long the British Navy’s primary port in the Caribbean. These days, cannon-laden ships no longer tie to the wharfs at Nelson’s Dockyard, but a different type of nautical combat takes place each spring when sailing yachts of every type converge for bouts of trade wind powered racing action. Anyone who enjoys a spirited sail followed by a round or two back at the docks should plan on visiting the island during these signature events.

Antigua Sailing Week

2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the Caribbean’s premier sailing event. From humble beginnings as a local event, this regatta has grown to attract an international following, bringing more than 100 yachts and thousands of sailors and spectators to the island for a week of racing action and lively shore side celebrations.

Antigua Sailing Week

Racing along the southern coast of Antigua, highly trained crews trim sails and tighten lines to harness trade winds and coax every available bit of speed from their yachts. Photo: Antigua Sailing Week

Racers are divided into categories and provided with time handicaps that allow for spirited competition on an even playing field. As a result, the fleet includes everything from vintage sloops to futuristic multihulls and high-dollar luxury yachts. Racing takes place off the island’s south coast, giving spectators prime views of the fleet from beaches and bluffs. Shirley Heights Lookout hosts a pre-race breakfast, and this restored hilltop fortress is an ideal vantage point for racing action. Short hikes from Galleon Beach and Nelson’s Dockyard lead to more viewing points. Each day of racing is followed by a rigorous party schedule that includes balls, banquets and awards ceremonies.

Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta

Two weeks before Antigua’s Sailing Week events kick off, sailors gather for a blast from the past that brings together a fleet of tall ships, vintage ocean racers and island sloops. The Classic Yacht Regatta will celebrate it’s 31st running in April of 2017, with daily races staged in the waters offshore of Falmouth Harbour. Spectators can follow the action from shore, or book a place on a modern sailing yacht that shadows the fleet.

Antigua Nelsons Dockyard

The historic grounds of Nelson’s Dockyard, once the center of England’s Caribbean naval activity, now draw sleek yachts for events such as Antigua Sailing Week. Photo: iStock

The day before racing begins, Concours d’Elegance provides a chance to wander the docks and admire the craftsmanship and gleaming brightwork of some 50 classic ketches, sloops and schooners, with prizes awarded to the best. Another highlight of the fleet are the Carriacou sloops. These historic vessels, once used for fishing and inter-island travel, showcase the skill of artisanal Caribbean boat builders while proving themselves to be capable competitors. In addition to nightly parties, the regatta winds up with a cream tea party in English Harbour and the Parade of Classics, with crews dressing up in period costumes for one final sail.

RORC Caribbean 600

In 2009, England’s Royal Ocean Racing Club decided to add a winter event to their usual race schedule, and to set it not in the British Isles, but in the warmer waters of the Caribbean in partnership with the Antigua Yacht Club. But this international completion is no pleasure sail, as it attracts some of the world’s fastest and most sophisticated ocean racing yachts for four days of round-the-clock sailing over a 600 mile-course that takes in 11 islands.

Antigua RORC

An international fleet of ocean racing yachts gather for the start of the 2017 RORC Caribbean 600. This demanding event draws some of the world’s best sailors to the island of Antigua each February. Photo: Debbie Snow

The 2017 event attracted more than 900 competitors from 30 nations. The start brings out spectators to watch boats jockey for a position before heading off around the island and out to sea. The course runs north past Barbuda, then west to Nevis, around Saba, St. Barts and St. Martin before heading south to Guadeloupe, with marks at Les Saintes and Les Désirade. A final run to Barbuda and Redonda lead to a dash back to Antigua’s Fort Charlotte. Many spectators track the course and boats on their smartphones, and there are opening and closing parties at the Antigua Yacht Club.

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