I very nearly didn’t make it to the Antigua Charter Yacht Show. The trains to Gatwick Airport were delayed, and the taxi I had eventually found inched along the motorway at the pace of a snail on Valium, the driver looking worriedly at the petrol gauge every few seconds.
'Should have got petrol, you see’ he said. Yes, you probably should have, I thought, as I fought the urge to hit him over the head with something solid.
Murder takes time, after all, and time was one thing I didn’t have. We crawled along, ears alert to the sputter of dying engines. How was I going to tell my editor that I’d missed my flight to the yacht show I was meant to be covering?
Pulling into Gatwick 20 minutes before my flight gate closed, the driver jumped out and helpfully grabbed the small suitcase I was trying to zip up. The case flew open, and clothes, makeup and underwear flew in the strong wind across the Gatwick drop-off zone.
My mascara rolled under a passing car, and I held up traffic with my hand while I retrieved my belongings. Cars beeped, no doubt enjoying the sight of a very stressed woman running around looking under cars and trying to catch bits of clothing whipping down the road. In the meantime, my cab driver drove away, my favourite hat still on the back seat.
After a delay at X-Ray that involved me losing my favourite earrings, I cast a regretful look at Boots pharmacy as I belted past it. I’d decided to buy all my toiletries and a new hairbrush at Gatwick rather than bringing them from France, but there was no time for such things now. I’ll just buy them in Antigua, I thought.
Clearly it had been a while since I’d shopped in the Caribbean.
‘A hairbrush? You’ll have to go to St Johns to find something like that’, the lady at the Antigua supermarket told me that evening, fixing me with a glare obviously reserved for the worst kind of idiot.
To the capital city of Antigua, on a steamy bus, for a hairbrush? You’ve got to be kidding.
I settled for buying a painful-looking comb, a bar of soap, some home-brand shampoo with a weird smell and a small soft packet of laundry powder, which smelt suspiciously like the shampoo.
I took a walk around English Harbour, its docks chock full of boats getting ready for the show. Not much has changed since I was here last in 2007; Mad Mongoose it still going strong and the tables at Skullduggery are cluttered with Espresso Martinis. I walked past a stall piled high with pineapples and tropical flowers, and the air was thick with the smell of ripe fruit and oncoming rain.
A sudden downpour had me running through the mud and potholes to Trappas for a Caribbean curry and rum punch with the rain hammering on the tin roof and the tables around filled with the roar of happy yacht crews yelling over the noise. Exhausted, I was in bed by 9pm, falling asleep to the sound of the ceiling fan and dogs barking incessantly, as Caribbean dogs tend to do.
The barking dogs and roosters began their chorus just before dawn. The soundtrack of the Caribbean; it was nice to be back.
Upon discovering that the hotel’s internet coverage did not stretch as far as my room, I adjourned to the courtyard, where a middle aged American man soon joined me and began to chat.
I finished my work rather quickly and returned to my room to get ready for a meeting about the Camper and Nicholson’s crew party that OnboardOnline was sponsoring.
Back in my room, my toilet clogged and began to overflow, leaving me to borrow a plunger off the Caribbean maid who was singing loudly outside my room as she swept the verandah.
Problem solved, I then realised I couldn’t find my room key.
I rushed back downstairs to the courtyard, only to find my American friend patting my key suggestively. ‘I really didn’t know how to interpret you leaving your room key on the table’, he said with a meaningful look. I laughed, although the sound came out more like the neigh of a startled horse, and ran off to my meeting.
‘Have a good day, tiger’, he called out after me, laughing.
Having bought an odd assortment of toiletries, fixed the toilet and inadvertedly invited a tiger man to my hotel room, I am now prepared to for the 52nd Antigua Charter Yacht Show to begin in earnest. There are 99 boats to see, so I’d best get moving.
So if you see a straggly-haired person whose hair smells like washing powder wandering about the Antigua Show talking about OnboardOnline and perhaps even brandishing a plunger, please do say hello. Just don’t call me tiger or I might hit you over the head with something solid.
Day 1: The Tropic of Conga
What is it about the Caribbean and conga line dancing? I’m sure that the desire to form a line and wind around the room holding onto some stranger’s hips with a slightly embarrassed grin on your face only happens in the tropics. I certainly didn’t see it at the Monaco Yacht Show, yet saw it repeatedly in Antigua.
The first time it happened was at the Camper&Nicholsons Crew Party, but luckily my role as OnboardOnline photographer meant I could opt out and just take photos of others winding happily about the dance floor in a human chain. It never lasts for long though, does it. Conga is a dance that must be done with conviction, or not at all. Before long the chain weakens, the less committed fall away feeling a bit foolish, and finally there’s just three drunk people at the head, entirely unaware that the body of the conga snake has fallen away and that now there’s just a room full of people looking at them, wondering when they might stop. It’s all thoroughly enjoyable. The whole night was really, as a great band played under the waving palms at Admiral’s Inn.
Day 2: Torrential rain, internet out across much of the island.
The crews stood as far back on their aft decks as possible, sheltering from the sheeting rain and waiting for brokers who never came, who were instead sitting in cafes grumbling about not being able to see any boats, or had retreated to their hotel rooms to try and find a weak internet signal. There was a slight chill in the wind, and a sailboat rolled about in the bay, mast waving wildly. It was not a good start, and the weather forecast bode only rain and dark skies for the week ahead. I went back to the hotel, but no internet there either.
Everybody gathered that evening at the Copper & Lumber Store for the Welcome Party. Foul weather gear and bent brollies were shed to reveal evening dresses and high heels spattered in mud. The venue was full, people chatting between the old stone columns, and spilled outside under white tenting.
A few hours and much talking later, I walked home to my hotel, past Rastas who were dancing like zombies auditioning for a Simon Clegg movie in the street outside the Rasta Shack, where the bamboo walls shook to the sound of loud reggae. I shut my hotel room door: It sounded like there was a whole reggae band in bed with me. There’s a first time for everything, I suppose. There was a Dictaphone on the table that I use for recording interviews, and I must have been thoroughly annoyed, because I decided to tape how loud the reggae was in my room. As I listened to it back and hurrumphed, (for it certainly was loud), I caught myself and laughed- a zimmerframe and a sippy cup must be just around the corner when you find yourself taping noise from a neighbouring bar and hurrumphing.
Day 3: Sanctimony in the Rain
I woke up feeling good. An early night and no hangover, in Antigua? Well done, me. My sanctimonious attitude and I decided to go to the beach for a swim. As I was walking over the hill, it began to pour, and both me and my sanctimony were quickly drenched.
As I brunched on the stunning M/Y Sherakhan and had a long lunch on S/Y Chronos while the rain hammered down outside, it occurred to me that I quite like being a guest on a boat. It’s rather pleasant. But when a warming grappa was mentioned it was definitely time to leave. An excellent tour of Sealyon and Parsifal 3 later, the afternoon was darkening, and it was time for the Yacht Club Marina Yacht Hop.
What a concept. We were treated to mulled wine and Christmas theme by Katie and the crew of M/Y Go, then moved across to a Spice Girls party on a boat festooned with union jack flags.
Then onto a prohibition party on Montigne, where flappers with feathered headbands served drinks and I beat the house playing blackjack in a charity game with Tommy to raise money for the Antigua rescue service. Then off to Katara for a 70’s party with the crew wearing wonderfully silly wigs, and finally onto the sundeck of Swan, decked with giant wings hanging from the radar arch, with the stews walking about in swan costumes serving drinks while a band played aft. What a night, what a welcome the boats put on.
Day 4: More boats, more parties: Nelson’s Dockyard
Woken by the sound of a helicopter and a buzzing whippersnipper. Sleeping in clearly not an option, so decided to get to it.
On my tour of Nelson’s Dockyard I fell in love with M/Y Dream, with its gorgeous wooden flooring and beautiful clean design. I visited so many impressive boats this show, and not all can get a mention here, but Dream was certainly a favourite.
On M/Y Crowned Eagle I was astonished by Chief Stew Hayley’s Tree of Life table decoration, which would go on to win the Best Table Decoration competition for boats in the 100-159ft category. It was a very successful show for Crowned Eagle in general, as Chef Jake also took out the top prize in the culinary contest for that size category.
That night, when I returned for the yacht hop I found that the crew were also adept in making jello shots and Mexican wrestling. Thanks for the tequila, guys- no really. Thanks.
Next door at Capricorn the crew stood on the aft deck dressed in 70’s get-up, dancing up a storm, inside on the dining table lava lamps glowed blue amongst the canapés.
The prize for best yacht hop party in this category though went to M/YTeleost- could it really have gone to anyone else? For their Out of Africa theme, they had covered the passerellle and aft deck in palm fronds, astroturfed the aft deck (wise, wise move), then invited a Caribbean choir and some African dancers along. Nothing pleased me more though than the utterly ridiculous jungle costumes the crew were dressed in- one of which was apparently a monkey that looked alarmingly like a demented beetle. You might not throw a party like that for superyacht guests, mind, but none of us were complaining.
The herd of donkeys staked on the grass then put on their own show. There aren’t many places in the world where you can see donkeys getting it on in front of a superyacht, but Antigua is definitely one of them. I have the proof.
Sadly, I never made it to Harle, where the party went on for hours, everybody was talking about it the next day. For some reason not yet satisfactorily explained to me, I ended up at Abracadabras. Abracadabra indeed- hours lost into the ether, and sobriety vanished along with a good bit of cash. Quite the magic trick, that one.
Day 5: Yet more boats, yet more parties: Falmouth Harbour Marina
I woke up altogether lacking in sanctimony. Off I trotted to a lunch on Stad Amsterdam, and was given a tour by captain Andy Manser of this wonderful tall ship. I then went next door to S/Y Marie, where I got in the little lift and got hoisted (hydraulically) to the top of the 140 foot mast. That’s quite high. Magnificent views of Antigua from up there, and it gave me a whole new appreciation for the crew of Stad Amsterdam, who scale the rigging the old-fashioned way. S/Y Marie is a gorgeous yacht, ultra-modern but with an appreciation of history: the owner has a love for old weaponry- there are display cases of muskets and guns, and hatches on deck to reveal cannons that can be wheeled out and fired.
Nightfall took me back to Stad Amsterdam in the pouring rain for a party under the canopy, then onto M/Y Natita, where I was greeted by men wearing Peruvian donkey blankets and stick-on moustaches. The lovely stews immediately handed me one of the nicest cocktails I have ever tasted- a Pisco Sour. I was so impressed I felt compelled to have a second. Reluctantly dragging myself away from the very comfortable upper salon with its grand piano, I was off to Titania, where I was utterly entranced and fell down a rabbithole. The theme was Alice in Wonderland- it won the Yacht Hop for Falmouth Marina; in my mind it won the whole damn thing.
This is a boat that knows how to do a theme- speaking to chief Stew Zy and her 2nd stew Elise the next day, I’m told they do enough theme nights for the boss to have one every second night for a 3 week charter. When I was a stew I didn’t enjoy doing theme nights myself (I felt like a dancing circus bear) but now, having seen how well it can be done, I can absolutely understand why guests enjoy it. It seemed fun, and sophisticated, and effortless on the part of the crew: the perfect combination of superyacht entertainment.
Pulling myself reluctantly out of the rabbithole, I visited M/Y Safira, where a young man in a Tarzan costume had arranged all the shoes in a very nice circle at the foot of a passerelle covered in palm fronds. Up I went, to a sundeck where rubber duckies bounced about happily in the jacuzzi. I drank a blue drink, and was off again, pushing through the wet palm leaves and off the passerelle: time was running short.
My last stop was M/Y Baton Rouge, where a band played and brokers and crew danced on the sundeck. I decided to join them, and we spent hours dancing, spray from yet another downpour cooling everyone down and the deckies squeegee-ing away the water rushing in around our feet. Finally it came to an end and we all wandered off into the rainy night.
Day 6: Cannonfire and Waterballoons
The last day was spent rushing around, trying to see as many boats as possible.
Having missed the party on M/Y Harle and having heard lots of good things about the boat, I decided to drop by. Deckhand Cheyne showed me around the boat, and we ended up on the sundeck, where I found the chief stew dressed up in a skimpy Santa’s elf costume and a harness, posing on the radar arch with a Styrofoam snowman, wearing a hat with MTN written on it. A little bit startled, I was told that MTN had been running a photo competition for the best crew dress-up. Not bad product placement, if you ask me.
By the afternoon, everybody was exhausted and the show got that feeling of a quiet Sunday afternoon after a (very) long weekend. Croaky voiced crew gave a few croaky-voiced brokers tours around their yachts for the hundredth time, wondering just how many different ways they could describe the same thing. It’s a cabin, yes it is. It has beds.
At around 5pm, me and my camera nearly got a soaking at the hands of marauding bands of yacht crew, armed with catapults and water balloons.
At 5:30 the horns sounded- what a wonderful sound that is- and the crew of S/Y Marie wheeled out their cannon and fired some shots from the bow. Nostalgia set in, that lovely feeling of a great week ending, another year rolling by. Crews got busy pulling down flags, throwing out flowers and turning out the lights, and these magnificent yachts returned to their normal quiet, hermetic environments, closed off to all but the ultra-privileged few. For a few days in the closing weeks of 2013, I consider myself extremely lucky to have been one of them.
Had I been brainwashed by the fun of the show, the beauty of the boats, the professionalism and friendliness of the crews? Absolutely. And for the brokers going back to their offices to push charters and for the press going back to file articles, that’s exactly what the participating boats must have been hoping for.
Jolly good show.