Gone with the Wind

Our writer learns the ropes aboard a racing boat during Antigua’s annual regatta.

By Diane Selkirk

Smooth sailing

Where else to rock the boat. 


Don your pea jacket before heading for Les Glénans sailing school. Then, in the Glénan archipelago off the port city of Concarneau, in Brittany, take the helm of a small sailboat (with a seasoned skipper) and navigate the Atlantic coast’s estuaries – with a side trip to the high seas to test your skills at full speed.  


Canada and the Caribbean

Live on board a keelboat while taking an advanced training course in getting underway, navigating and berthing with Croisière Mercator. In summer, students explore the rugged seascapes of the Saguenay Fjord; in winter, they set sail in the Caribbean.  



Rule the waves at Island Dreamer Sailing in Florida, where you’ll travel alongside dolphins and barracudas as they frolic in the Gulf Stream.  


When the start cannon sounds and we charge across the line without incident, I remember to exhale. Then yachtsman Brian Thompson calls a tack, and my 13 co-crew members and I leap into professional-looking action: grinding the big winches, moving the sails to the other side. I look up to confirm that they’re shaped correctly and pulling hard. Thompson, whose nerves of titanium come from years of smashing speed records, holds our 65-foot Farr 65 sailboat on a steady course. Around us, the competition slices through the cobalt waves, often a whisper’s distance from collision.

I’m crewing aboard the Spirit of Minerva, a Grand Prix racing yacht, jockeying for position in race six of the 43rd Antigua Sailing Week. Antigua’s annual regatta (taking place from April 24 to 29 next year) is the Grand Dame of the Caribbean race circuit, featuring some of the fastest boats and most famous racers in the sport. All of which is to say that you don’t just pop in and race against the likes of Niklas Zennström or Peter Isler anymore than you’d take the family sedan for a spin at Le Mans, but then I’m participating in Safe Passage Sailing’s mentored racing program.

Since I’m a cruising sailor and not a racing sailor – the distinction being when I sight a boat ahead of mine, I ignore the little voice that insists I catch her – I find the barely controlled chaos that marks the start of this race unnerving. “Mentoring is an interesting challenge. It’s about more than teaching sailing skills,” Thompson says. His job over the week-long program is to help sailors gain confidence and develop as a team.

My own goals are to stop obsessing over how close the other boats are and to learn more about trimming the sails for speed. But with a cliff looming ahead, my immediate objective is to stay alive. I focus on Thompson. His confidence that we are not about to slam our yacht into something solid is contagious.

As soon as we tack, I discover that sailing straight at the cliff wasn’t such a crazy idea but a time-gaining tactical move – we’ve pulled ahead of two boats. Our next manoeuvre, sailing closely alongside another yacht, steals their wind and puts us even farther ahead.

By mid-race, I’m relaxing in the warm Caribbean spray. The view – sleek sailing machines slashing through two-metre swells, with low green hills and the ruins from Nelson’s Dockyard as a backdrop – is a scene straight out of a calendar.

Just ahead of us now is another yacht. This time, when my little voice says, “Catch her!”, I’m ready.  

Write to us: letters@enroutemag.net 

Where to Stay

Before setting sail for Antigua Sailing Week (from April 24 to 29, 2011), check in at Carlisle Bay, a hotel whose main goal is to offer its guests luxurious relaxation against a backdrop of sea, rainforest and rolling hills. To book yourself a unique learning experience on a race sailboat, see where Safe Passage Sailing’s mentored racing program is running next. It could be anywhere in the Caribbean or the U.S.  

Carlisle Bay Carlisle Bay, Old Road, St. Mary’s, 268-484-0000, campbellgrayhotels.com
Safe Passage Sailing 415-381-4773,

Where to Eat

With a view of both Ffryes Beach and Jolly Beach, Dennis’s Bar & Restaurant sits pretty while serving local dishes of salt fish, curried goat and johnnycakes as well as grilled lobster and island grilled steak. Don’t miss out on the regular pig roast, which draws people from near and far.  

Ffryes Beach, 268-728-5086, dennis.ipage.ag