Antigua-Barbuda Sailing into the Hamptons

A Caribbean breeze is blowing in Sag Harbor, and it has nothing to do with the weather outside. Inside the American Hotel is where you’ll find these particular winds.

Antigua-Barbuda Tourism Minister John Maginley is telling tales of his homeland, awash in beaches and tropical weather. As the narrative moves onto a brief history of how Antigua has become an international boater’s haven—smooth waters, safe harbors, sunshine skies—it’s hard not to feel the ground start to rock on some imaginary tide. “There are very few places in the Caribbean, if any,” he says, “that can compete with us in terms of sailing.”

And that sailing spirit will call some of Long Island’s finest mariners to Sag Harbor on August 18, when the Breakwater Yacht Club hosts the first Antigua-Barbuda Challenge. Any boat from one of the participating Long Island yacht clubs can enter the one-day event, and the winner—the captain plus up to six crew members—will be flown to the Caribbean next year to compete in the 2013 Antigua Sailing Week, one of the world’s most prestigious sailing events.

“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for everybody,” says Maginley. He won’t get a great deal of argument on that point. “For the people who sail, instead of just winning a trophy and having bragging rights in the region, now they get to go onto something bigger and now sail in a major regatta…in the Caribbean…in the wintertime.” And in addition to the regatta and the celebration that will accompany it, the Antigua-Barbuda Challenge also supports both the Breakwater Yacht Club’s Junior Sailing Program and the I-tri Transformation Through Triathlon, which works with adolescent girls in teaching self-esteem through athletic training and teamwork.

Despite the decided dearth of palm trees anywhere in the vicinity of Long Wharf, the bond between the island nation and the East End of Long Island was clear when Maginley first spoke with Rob Roden, CEO of Captains Guide Magazine, about creating the Antigua-Barbuda Challenge two years ago. “This is a sailing community, and Antigua is one of the best sailing destinations in the world,” Maginley says. And the Hamptons offers Maginley the chance to entice more than just the regatta winners to his homeland.

“Many people don’t know a lot about Antigua-Barbuda,” he says. That will change with events like the Challenge, “having Antigua and Barbuda represented in the Hamptons in the summertime, when the Who’s Who of the East Coast is coming here.”

The education will continue first-hand for the lucky team headed to Antigua Sailing Week. And in a world where all classes and sizes of boats compete against one another— little boats starting first, then the big and faster ones coming at the end—participants become the stuff of legend. Everyone who’s taken part has a story they love to share.

“I remember one time, one of the big 80-foot boats was sailing down on a tiny 24-foot Antiguan boat,” Maginely says, pulling a gem from his personal collection of memories. “In sailing they have rules that govern the race, so if you’re on the starboard side you call “Starboard!” and the other boat has to tack away. So this little 20-something-foot boat has this 80-foot boat bearing down on it, and the crew on the little boat is yelling, “Starboard! Starboard!”

“And as soon as it tacks away,” he continues, “all the guys on the little boat start going YEEAAAAHH! And that was still it at the end of the night, those guys saying, “Man, did you see us, we made that big racing machine tack away!’”

Even for those who’ve never set foot on a boat or tried on a pair of topsiders, the Challenge should stir something inside. “I must admit, I’m not a big sailor,” Maginley says with a smile. “I’m more of a power-boat guy. But I understand the passion for the ocean, I love the sea myself. Certainly on the day of the race I will be here, and maybe somebody will be brave enough to put me on his crew. I’m more like ballast, so I don’t think they’d give me too much responsibility.” Making sure those tickets to Antigua are booked will be quite enough.

 The Breakwater Yacht Club hosts the first Antigua-Barbuda Challenge on Saturday, August 18.

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