I’m no stranger to the worn, mustard-yellow couch in Travis Yates’ office.
I often find myself sinking between its cushions and staring at the framed photos of sailing vessels in far-flung corners of the world while Travis recalls stories from a life at sea. Today, one particular photo of our very own S/Y Argo catches my attention. At full sail, Argo is beginning to heel-over while charging through an impossibly blue ocean; a wave rises to crash the bow while a flurry of students hurriedly tends lines.
Travis catches me staring at the photo and off-handedly mentions, “I think I actually have the trophy from that year of the Antigua Classic sitting in my truck.” I don’t doubt for a second the existence or whereabouts of the trophy; Travis is a life-long sailor and has been internationally competitive for years, the culmination of which was a bid for the Olympic Sailing Team in 1996. If Travis says the trophy is sitting in his truck – the trophy is sitting in his truck. Having never competed in the event myself, I’m instantly curious.
Travis explains that the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta is one of the world’s foremost sailing regattas, an annual event which draws dozens of vessels and hundreds of sailors from across the globe. For half a century, yachtsmen have migrated to Antigua to race in some of the most favorable sailing conditions on the planet. The steady trade winds that blow through the Caribbean make this race – combined with the excitement of the Antigua Sailing Week – the holy grail of sailing for amateurs and a rite of passage for professionals. The by-invitation-only event gives priority to the art of sailing rather than the social atmosphere that so often accompanies a regatta of this size; it’s a nod to sailing in its purest form, with courses as complex as the century-old boats that sail them.
He recalls the arguably most exciting course of the regatta, the “Kenny Coombs Memorial Cannon Race” – also known as “The Cannonball.” “That was the first year we won our division with a student crew aboard,” he proudly notes. 2016 was a big year for Argo. I later learn that The Cannonball takes advantage of persistent easterly winds and places vessels on a “Reaching” point of sail for nearly the entire race, concurrently crisscrossing their trajectories in a fast-paced mesh of wooden-masts and elaborate sail configurations from a bygone era.
Travis continues, “This upcoming year will actually be our eighth entry in the Classic. We’re planning on wrapping up final exams early to fully commit ourselves as a crew to the regatta.” Indeed, the upcoming spring voyage will culminate in an application of the teamwork developed and the sailing skills acquired in the previous 75 days aboard S/Y Ocean Star.
Yet as I sit listening to Travis wax-poetic about the regatta, I realize the trophy is not the crowning achievement by which a crew’s success or growth is measured. The experience of simply competing in this regatta and the bonds formed at sea are far more valuable than any trophy in the backseat of a truck.
As I once again pry myself from the folds of the worn, mustard-yellow couch and stand to leave, Travis adds, “Ya’ know – Kenny Coombs, the event’s founder, said it best: ‘Everyone here is on the same level, whether you come in flip-flops or a private jet. We’re here for the sailing.'”