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Antigua’s annual regatta week

Aerial-view-of-J-Class-Cutters-Antigua-Classic-Yacht-RegattaAntigua’s annual regatta week adds even more to enjoy on paradise Caribbean island

By Susanna Galton From Daily Mirror UK

Susanna Galton splices the mainbrace at the Caribbean island’s annual week of sailing before enjoying its many other delights

With its idyllic Caribbean climate, an easy-going way of life and 365 beaches – yes, as every tourist leaflet proudly boasts, there’s one for every day of the year – Antigua is simply gorgeous.

And every spring, when it hosts its annual sailing week, the sleepy little island – along with smaller neighbouring Barbuda – really starts to get buzzy.

I was on the stunning island for the 2015 regatta, when 121 yachts from 21 different countries gathered to race.

The sight of all the sails racing across the blue Caribbean water is pretty impressive. And despite the fact it’s a competition, there’s a high spirit of ­camaraderie among the sailors,­ especially when they pour into the beach bars after a day of hard sailing and merrily toast their successes.

I joined a Wadadli Cats ‘chase the race’ party boat to see the action close up, but in truth, you’d need far stronger sea legs than me and you’d have to happy to risk people being sick and spilling booze on you (trust me, not pleasant!).

Rest assured, though, if you’re more of a landlubber than a water baby, Antigua has plenty to offer apart from the regatta. The hotel I stayed in, the Nonsuch Bay Resort, is set in a secluded bay on the east side of the island and offers heavenly boutique accommodation in hilltop villas, beach cottages and serviced ­apartments.

It’s a classy place, full of well-bred Brits, predominantly there for the regatta, and apparently very popular with Americans the rest of the year. In addition to the bedrooms with en suites and sea view ­balconies, there’s a bonus big open living room and kitchen area to kick back and relax in.

Rather than a smash and grab buffet, all ­(delicious) meals are freshly prepared to order and served in an intimate cliff-top restaurant ­overlooking the bay. There are three small infinity pools if you fancy a lazy sunbathe (which I did).

Yoga and in-room massages can be arranged at an extra cost, but the resort really prides itself on being a sailor’s paradise.

Kids as young as six can learn to sail a proper boat here – and fared much better than I did, I’m ashamed to say – and the enthusiastic on-site instructers also offer kitesurfing, paddleboarding and snorkelling.

During a perfect afternoon where all my James Bond fantasies were fulfilled, I was whisked by speedboat to nearby deserted, idyllic Green Island, where I saw turtles while ­snorkelling and gently paddleboarded my way around the island. It’s a great workout for the core, apparently, and my abs certainly ached enough the next day.

If you’re after a gorgeous place to grab a swim in the sea, Half Moon Bay is a quick car ride up the road from Nonsuch. It’s a glorious open stretch of white sand and truly aquamarine sea.

It looks straight out of a postcard and so ­typically Caribbean, you’ll want to do cartwheels on the shore singing the classic 1980s advert Here comes the Lilt man – L-ilt! (Or is that just me?).

But despite the lush greenery and quaint cricket pitches dotted across town, it’s not all picture perfect in Antigua. The roads are bad so driving anywhere can take much longer than you imagine. The whole island is only 14 miles long and 11 miles wide, but it can take up to two hours to get to the other side, and in some parts there is an air of genuine disregard.

Unwanted cars, long since abandoned by their owners, are just left at the ­roadside where plants grow out of them, and a sugar mill which stopped producing back in the 1950s has been just left to rot as no one can be bothered – or has sufficient funds – to either restore it or knock it down.

Antigua is also home to Crossroads, the famous rehab centre set up by legendary guitarist Eric Clapton, who owns a house on the island, as does Giorgio Armani. Oprah is also a frequent visitor if you’re into celeb spotting.

This “place of healing” was where Britney Spears was whisked following her infamous hair-shaving meltdown, and it’s also where Demi Moore is said to have recuperated following her break-up with Ashton Kutcher.

Interestingly, while the rich and famous have to pay considerable amounts to be treated at Crossroads, a bargain was struck during the building of it, to ensure that any locals needing professional treatment for ­addiction, would be allowed in for free.

Back at the regatta – which was founded in 1967 and this year runs from April 23-29 – there’s a definite party vibe as sailors pour themselves into the high- spirited BBQ nights at Shirley Heights, or the cute beach bars scattered along the picturesque Nelson’s Dockyard at English Harbour.

I enjoyed a ­fabulous goat curry in Trappas Bar & Restaurant, a lively beach shack run by expats at English Harbour, then ended up dancing the night away with other tourists, yachties and islanders at the Mad Mongoose, which is located on the strip between Falmouth and English Harbour.

It’s a brightly coloured roadside bar where everyone’s friends by the end of the night.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that the cocktails labelled old-fashioned are typically stronger than the ones they’ve been calling contemporary.

If you’d rather escape the lairy ­partygoers, try the gorgeous getaway Harmony Hall, one of the most romantic restaurants I’ve ever been to.

It has the ­atmosphere of a hippy retreat, breathtaking views across the ocean and some of the best seared tuna and vegetable tempura I’ve ever eaten.

Antigua is a gorgeous place, with delicious food, fab weather and warm fun-loving people.

I’d happily return here again and again… but I think I’d probably give that party boat a miss next time!

Get there

Virgin Holidays has 7nts a/i at the 4* Nonsuch Bay Resort in Antigua during sailing week from £2,159pp based on 2 sharing inc Virgin Atlantic flights from Gatwick on Apr 23 and tranfers; Aug 30 departure from £1,364pp. 0344 557 4321.

Tourist info:

Sailing week is Apr 23-29

Time zone: UK -4hrs

Currency: E Caribbean $ £1 = 3.82 to £1 (US$ widely accepted)

Best time to go: Hull of a trip next month; a tropical treat in August

Getty The Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta
Supplied Susanna Galton
Susanna catches some rays
Getty The Nonsuch Bay Resort really pampers you
Getty Picturesque English Harbour from Shirley Heights

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