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Antigua Sailing Week: Navigating the Winds of Change

Photos by Paul Wyeth – pwpictures.com

The crowds are in the harbour, the marinas are bustling, the boats are ready; the world’s premiere sailing event is here! Antigua Sailing Week has arrived.

Founded in 1968, Antigua Sailing Week quickly became a staple on the Caribbean racing calendar. Its reputation for fierce competition, postcard-perfect backdrops, and legendary parties drew sailors like magnets to a compass. Over the years, the event has evolved from a modest gathering of local boats to an international extravaganza, attracting yachts of all shapes and sizes.

Minister Charles Fernandez is fond of calling for Antigua to become the “Mecca of sailing;” Alison Sly-Adams, organiser of ASW says quite categorically, “Antigua has always been the “Heart of Caribbean yachting.”

The regatta plays host to an impressive fleet of vessels, each with its own story to tell. From cutting-edge racing machines adorned with high-tech sails and gleaming hulls to RS Elites and Dragons, Antigua Sailing Week showcases the full spectrum of seafaring prowess.

Photos by Nigel Francis ©Takumi Media @takumimedia

Beyond the racing and the partying, Antigua Sailing Week is a vital economic engine for the island nation. Each year, it injects a surge of revenue into local businesses, from hotels and restaurants to tour operators and taxi drivers. The influx of sailors and spectators brings a vibrant energy, transforming the area into a bustling hub of activity. A restaurant owner in English Harbour said “we welcome the sailors; this is our last chance to boost our season.”

Andrew Dove of Northsails is always busy, but ASW he says “always brings in more business.”

The event is, at its core, an economic engine that fuels prosperity far beyond the community English Harbour. While the event may not deliver dollars directly into every participant’s pocket, its impact reverberates throughout the economy, creating a ripple effect that sustains livelihoods and drives growth across the island.

From the taxi drivers shuttling sailors to and from the marinas, to the vendors selling souvenirs and provisions, the regatta injects a surge of revenue into countless local businesses, large and small. The economic multiplier effect circulates money to ensure that every dollar spent during the regatta reverberates throughout the island, enriching the lives of countless individuals and families.

Challenge & outside Competition

But while the economic value of ASW cannot be overstated, the Caribbean region is facing inevitable challenges in the sailing industry.

The global economic downturn, coupled with changing travel patterns and tighter budgets, has left sailors with less discretionary income to spare.

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In an era of heightened environmental consciousness, travellers are also making more conscientious choices about their travel and leisure activities. The long-haul flights required to reach Antigua may be less appealing to environmentally conscious sailors, who are opting for greener alternatives or staying closer to home.

Sailors are increasingly seeking more focused events that cater to their specific interests and skill levels. The rise of events like the Multihull Challenge in St. Martin and the RORC Caribbean 600 reflects this trend. The RORC 600 is becoming increasingly popular with sailors opting for the challenge of the long race over ASW.

Even the management of the events face their own set of challenges. As younger sailors gravitate towards racing rather than organizing,  ensuring smooth operations and effective race management is challenging but essential but increasingly difficult. Without a dedicated team of organisers and volunteers, the regatta risks losing its competitive edge and appeal to participants. As people age out of race management, a gap is growing of skills and knowledge.

The Caribbean regatta circuit has become increasingly crowded, with events in St. Barth’s, St. Maarten, and the British Virgin Islands following Antigua’s lead. As calendars fill up and budgets tighten, sailors are forced to make difficult choices.

With fewer vessels sailing in an increasing number of regattas in the region in recent years, the industry is grappling with a decline. In 2007, 780 boats participated in the six key regattas across the region. In 2024, participation is at an all-time low (excluding Covid).

Across the Caribbean that number has decreased to 505 boats, with eleven events now taking place. Among this increased activity, Antigua very much holds its own. In 2007, the % of boats racing in Antigua was at 33%. In 2024 that figure is 41%. Despite the lower numbers of boats participating, Antigua has not just retained but grown its dominance.

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