Location: Falmouth Harbour, Antigua
We started our day with breakfast and a movie in the salon, munching on granola and yogurt as the opening credits for Captains Courageous began. The movie was given to us by the crew of schooner Columbia to watch both for entertainment and for learning about the history and tradition behind the Gloucester fishing schooners (and their races). The movie is an adaptation of a Kipling novel about a young boy from a privileged background who falls overboard from a steam liner. He’s rescued by the fisherman Manuel of schooner We’re Here, who pulls him in and calls him Little Fish. The boy starts as a brat: demanding to see the captain and go home immediately, “or else.” The captain took none of his attitude, however, and put the boy to work. Through friendship with kindly fisherman Manuel, the boy grew into a fine young sailor who understood honesty, friendship, hard work, and honor far better than he did when he first came aboard.
In addition to providing some nice early-morning entertainment, the movie had some great shots of fishing schooners and did a fine job of depicting the fishing schooner races: when fishermen would press their boats as hard as they could to be the first back to Gloucester from the Grand Banks and get the best price for their fish. Over time the boats were built faster and faster, and by the early 1920s, the races back to the harbor were covered by big newspapers the same way a sporting event would be covered today. Often the race brought as much glory as landing a hold full of fish, and as the boats got faster and sailed harder, they sank and lost men quite frequently.
Schooner Columbia was originally a Gloucester fishing schooner built-in 1923. She was built primarily for racing, competing for the International Fisherman’s Trophy, which was awarded to the fastest schooner working in North Atlantic deep waters. She had to fish as well, of course, to participate in the races, but by this point, in time, the races were as important as the fishing for some of these super-powered, incredibly fast vessels. Like many of the schooners of her time, she had a short life on the water: she disappeared in 1927 while fishing off Sable Island with all twenty-two hands. The names of the crew are listed on the memorial in Gloucester; it was one of the greatest losses of life in a single day in Gloucester fishing history.
A replica of Columbia was built in 2014. Again, she was designed primarily as a racing boat but with ample storage for fishing gear and catch. Though she has more of a superyacht, high-finish feel than her predecessor, Columbia was built to almost identical specifications as the original with a few substitutions: a steel hull, slight modifications to the deck houses, hydraulic winches, a much nicer interior. Columbia is a regular at the Antigua Classics Regatta. With an LOA of 140ft+ and a hull speed around 14kts, she’s a big, powerful, beautiful force to reckon without on the water.
We saw Columbia raising sails for a practice race our first day in Antigua and have had our eye on her ever since. We raced in the same class as her and got to see her in action, cutting through the water like a knife and throwing hundreds of gallons of water across her deck. She’s awe-inspiring to watch from afar and gorgeous up close (even on the dock with sails furled) — enough so that some of our students have taken to calling her “Big Sexy.” While we were on the dock during the Regatta, some boats were easier to get tours of than others. Especially for a group of our size, we suspected that getting on Columbia would be no easy feat.
Fortunately for us, the chief mate of Columbia is a generous and friendly guy. After meeting some of our crew, he got permission from the captain and owner to show us all around with one stipulation: that we watch Captains Courageous before coming aboard to have a proper appreciation for the boat while we had our look around. This morning after watching the movie, we headed down the dock and had our tour. We oohed and ahhhed at the brightwork, examined deadeyes and seizings done to original specifications, tiptoed through their fo’c’sle, chit-chatted about brining turkey with their chef, stuck our heads inside their immaculate and enormous engine room, and heard stories about Columbia’s history from their owner in the salon. It was a very, very cool way to cap our experience at Antigua Classics, and as we hopped back down the gangway, I heard some of our students wondering aloud whether or not they’d be able to work on a boat like her someday.
We got off the dock at midday and headed to the back of Falmouth to drop a hook for the night. Some of our students chose to do a final dive on a small islet near our anchorage, while others went ashore to English Harbor to watch the dory and small boat races. We reconvened in the late afternoon, during which everyone enjoyed their final jump-in showers, Rescue Divers took their final exams, and some of the more organized amongst us began the arduous process of beginning to organize and pack their belongings.
We’ve finished Classics on a high note. We are turning our focus back to our regular program once again, finishing up our final paperwork and getting started on writing our cards — a tradition that every GXG program does throughout the final nights of the trip. This evening we’ll also make popcorn and have a screening of White Squall, another great movie about sailing and sail training. It’s hard to believe that we’re in the final days of the trip already. The past months have been incredible. This is a special group of students who will be missed very much when they depart.