Azure or turquoise water, hardly any wind and waves, tanned vacationers bobbing in the shallow water on one of the supposedly most romantic islands in the world with as many beaches as the year has days. Antigua . But we left all of that long ago when we went on the catamaran of the Mystic Cruises to the rough Atlantic. Here is the end of fun. The waves throw the boat up and smack it back on the water like a dog playing a ball. I can hardly keep my balance, I stagger with my camera over the deck, my eyes always on the first one masters, who cut the ocean in pieces before us. Because I'm very close to this race of the 50th Antigua Sailing Week , the largest sailing regatta in the Caribbean.
Chase the race
'Follow the race' is the name of the spectacle, and in fact we will soon be on par with the sailors above whom a helicopter is circling. A few sails have national flags and proudly inflate from the wind, including Costa Rica. A little later a sail appears with a red background, in front of it an inverted triangle in black, turquoise and white. A golden sun rises from the turquoise, like from the clear water of the Caribbean, which is set against the black sky above - the flag of Antigua.
The locals on board the catamaran cheer as the sailing ship approaches and disappointedly lower their cell phones and cameras when the athletes pull the sail in immediately. "Today is May 1st and also a holiday for us - we were so happy to be able to watch the race from the water for the first time today," says a young Antiguan woman who came with her friends and has so far been happy just like I was sunbathing on the fishnet on the bow of the catamaran.
Now you can no longer think of resting. Everyone puts their rum or fruit punches aside, looks a bit anxiously ahead.
The spray lashes our faces as we cling to the railing and hold our breath: Our catamaran shoots straight at the sailors. What if we collide? Only a few more meters. I see the men in their T-shirts and shorts on the sailboat, hastily sliding from port to starboard or vice versa and shouting to each other. One slips. A spectator on the catamaran screams, but the sailor finds a stop at the last second, even smiles at us. The boat turns away, I feel its wind, hear the hissing of the water. Lucky.
A happy birthday
It all started in 1968 when 17 friends came together to race together. 50 years later, shortly before the start of the five-day regatta, over 150 sailors from 32 different countries are on the registration list. There are hardly any from Antigua itself, according to Ricky from the tourism authority, that the locals have little to do with fishing and ships apart from fishing. As more events than ever before were launched on the 50th birthday of the regatta under the motto 'Old traditions, new ways', a particularly large number of locals are needed as volunteers. One of them is J'ana, who helps with the catering of the guests on the catamaran. "I love ships," she tells me when Ricky leaves. “My father also had a boat and always took me with him. He died a few years ago and now I'm helping out in the regatta to help me feel closer to him. ”
This year, spectators can not only be there live on the water, but also from the land.
A highlight: to follow the sailing boats at 150 meters from the Shirley Heights Lookout, a restored military complex on the southern tip of Antigua with a world-famous 360 degree view over English Harbor and half the island. Regatta Sunday is even more lively than on normal Sundays, because locals particularly like to meet here for weekend breakfasts and barbecues followed by a party. Local breakfast specialties are served at a buffet, including salted fish, mostly ling fish, cut into pieces and garnished with onions and peppers. There is also chop-up, a vegetable mix of edible marshmallow, pumpkin, eggplant and spinach. And Fungee, a polenta-like dish made from corn flour. Live music is feasted and chatted on simple wooden benches, from another corner a reporter comments on the race deep down on the ocean. Few people understand exactly how the rules of the game are, but the sailors whizzing over the waves are a feast for the eyes and a good reason for locals and tourists alike to get together and have fun.
There have never been so many parties and events for Antigua Sailing Week as there was for the 50th birthday. For a whole week, there are various beaches and everywhere on the island from afternoon onwards, with the winner of the day race being chosen in the evening. The rum flows in all shapes and combinations.
But above all, a festival is longed for by the entire island population and all visitors: the reggae in the park on the regatta day. From the boat boys and bartenders on the catamaran to J'ana and all foreign visitors on board, all the tickets have gotten for the big event in Nelson's Dockyard, a historic port facility in southern Antigua and part of the UNESCO World Heritage since 2016.
There should be a guest of honor: Damian Marley, Bob Marley's youngest son. Starting at 9:00 p.m., the big stage takes place in the open air, the visitors stand close together, watch Marley's appearance with shining eyes. But it is a long time coming. An hour passes with a mixture of jokes by a wildly bouncing moderator and repeatedly stalled hits from the stereo system, a second with performances by various singers. It sizzles and steams from food stalls and grills, the rum flows and everyone sways their hips to the reggae rhythms, a smile on their faces. Even after the third hour of waiting. Somehow normal under the shining crescent moon, an almost full starry sky and a light breeze that sweeps across thousands of heads.
At midnight the time has come: A cheerful Damian Marley jumps onto the stage and waves a flag in the pan-African colors green, yellow and red. The crowd cheers, cell phones and plastic cups filled with rum soar. All of Antigua is celebrating and I'm there. And that makes me happy.