CNN- Warm Caribbean trade winds blow across tilting decks and spray lashes sun-bronzed bodies.
The rigging creaks and hums and crews trim sails as the boats dance across dazzling seas.
From April 28 to May 4 it’s the 51st annual Antigua Sailing Week — one of the sport’s most famous regattas with a reputation for spectacular racing and serious
It began as a simple dash to Guadeloupe between friends in the 1950s, but this year’s edition marks the 51st running of the prestigious week-long event.
Antigua narrowly escaped the wrath of Hurricane Irma, which devastated neighbouring Barbuda last October, but the knock-on effects have meant numbers are down “by about 15-20 boats” compared with the bumper 145-boat entry for last year’s 50th anniversary.
But organizers are still expecting to welcome about 120 boats and 1,000 sailors, who will bring about $4m of direct revenue to the island.
Sailing Week is based out of English Harbour, with its historic 18th century Nelson’s Dockyard and stunning Antigua Yacht Club, on the island’s south coast.
On the program is five days of coastal races of three to four hours, plus a longer race around Antigua race.
As the sun dips, the party starts. However, organizers are keen to insist the focus, once skewed too far towards the onshore activities, has been redressed.
“We’ve had our challenges, for sure,” commercial director Alison Sly-Adams told CNN Sport. “The event lost sight a little bit of what it was all about and that’s easy to do when you’re in such a great destination.
“But it’s absolute DNA is about fantastic racing and I think we’ve got the balance right.”
In the past the regatta featured races ending at different beaches around Antigua, but the advent of more stripped-out racing boats, with deeper keels and fewer sailors living aboard, made the logistics of running the regatta more difficult.
Hence, it was brought back to English Harbour to restore its core values.
“What makes it so unique is we’ve got such a lovely backdrop and you get this great international atmosphere, but ultimately the reason people come is the racing,” she adds.
“If you don’t get that right and if you don’t listen to the sailors and don’t make sure they’re getting what they need it’s going to falter. That did happen for a while but I’m happy to say we’ve got the format right and the event seems to be building.
This year’s fleet ranges from British businessman Sir Peter Harrison’s 115ft ketch Sojana and superfast Volvo 70 Warrior to 20ft open keel boats.
About 40 per cent of boats are chartered by visitors for the week, 30 per cent are sailed across the Atlantic from Europe or down from the US, and 30 per cent are owned by Caribbean sailors.
The bulk of crews come from the UK, Germany, the US and the wider Caribbean region.
“We have an amazing cross section,” says Sly-Adams.
“Yes, we have super rich yacht owners but there is a really good mix.”