Louis Grignon’s first trip to the Caribbean will certainly be one to remember.
The Montauk resident and owner of the Sag Harbor Yacht Yard will head to the islands of Antigua and Barbuda in April, thanks to his winning performance in the second annual Antigua Barbuda Hamptons Challenge sailing race in Sag Harbor on Saturday.
Created last year by Rob Roden and the Honorable John Maginley MP, Antigua and Barbuda’s Minister of Tourism and Civil Aviation, the local race offers the richest amateur sailing prize in the Northeast: a week-long, all-expenses paid trip for the winning captain and six crew members so they can participate in Antigua’s Sailing Week. The package includes airfare, high-end hotel accommodations and the use of a sailboat to compete in sailing week.
The prize was provided by Antigua and Barbuda’s ministry of tourism. Proceeds from the race benefit two local entities: the Breakwater Yacht Club Junior Sailing Program and i-Tri, an organization that helps improve the lives of at-risk adolescent girls by training them to compete in a triathlon.
Grignon captained Street Fighter, his 27-foot Pride 270 sailboat, with his brother, Mike, serving as crew. Because the boats in the race all have handicaps, the order of finish does not determine the winner. Rather, results are tabulated at the end of the race based on a formula that takes each boat’s handicap into account.
Boats raced in three divisions on Saturday—Division I (spinnaker-mostly asymmetric) had the largest boats, followed by Division II (spinnaker, mostly symmetric), and Division III (non-spinnaker). Louis Grignon’s boat was in Division III, the last group of boats to go over the starting line. Because of the handicap system, Grignon had no way of telling if he’d won, but he said he started hearing whispers from other participants that he had a good chance while he attended the event’s benefit party later that evening. He received confirmation shortly after that, when he was officially announced as the winner at the party.
Grignon will enjoy his first trip to the Caribbean with his brother, as well as his wife, Patty, and their daughters, Elizabeth and Camille. His brother will also bring his sons, Danny and Ryan Grignon.
Street Fighter was one of 35 boats that competed in the more than 15-mile race that took sailors out into Gardiners Bay after launching from the Breakwater Yacht Club in Sag Harbor. Participation was up by nearly 50 percent this year, according to Roden. In last year’s inaugural race, sailors had to deal with rainy conditions. This year, the sun was out, but the wind was light, which made for challenging conditions of a different variety.
“Everybody had to struggle to maximize any kind of speed on their boat,” Roden said. “They were constantly adjusting the sails to get as much out of their boat with so little wind.”
Grignon said while he had no idea if he’d win, he knew he was doing a nice job maximizing his boat’s potential on Saturday.
“The first thing we wanted to do was win our division,” he explained. “We were the last boat over the start line, but by the time we got up to the windward mark, we were right in the middle of the pack. When we made it down to the first mark, we caught and passed everyone in our division.
“When we started heading out past Cedar Point, the wind got very light,” he continued, “but between the time we rounded the first mark and got past Cedar Point, we got to all the spinnaker boats. We knew we were sailing well, but we had no idea how well we were doing.”
Instant Karma, a J-70 owned/skippered by David Betts, finished second, followed by Windsong, an Alerion Express 28, owned/skippered by Fred and Carleton Endemann. Skilligalee, a J-80 owned/skippered by Thomas C. Samuels, was fourth, while Skoot, a J-109 owned/skippered by James Vos, rounded out the top five. Skoot was the top boat in Division I, while Instant Karma was the winner in Division II. Street Fighter was tops in Division III.
Grignon said he is eagerly anticipating the trip to Antigua and Barbuda, islands that have a reputation as a mecca for sailing. He said he got positive feedback from last year’s winner, Jim Ryan, who told him he had a great time during his stay on the islands.
“He was happy to tell me how much of a good time I’ll have down there,” Grignon said.
Sailing was something Grignon became involved in only when he purchased the Sag Harbor Yacht Yard in 1994. Prior to owning the business, he operated commercial fishing boats in Montauk. With a degree in marine science, Grignon said he’s “been kicking around docks my whole life,” adding that he is indebted to others for helping him acquire much of his sailing and racing knowledge.
“I have to give credit to the crew [at the yacht yard] for having the boat ready to race,” he said. “And the customers who have become my friends have always been good at helping me. Chris Dowling, Greg Ames and George Martin—those guys were always free with information.”
Grignon, who is a Freemason, sailed Street Fighter under the banner of the New York Masonic Yacht Club.
For his part, Roden was very happy with the race results this year, and said the partnership that has been created between Sag Harbor and the Caribbean islands of Antigua and Barbuda will continue with the third installment of the race next year. For the second year in a row, Maginley was on hand for the race, along with several other members of the country’s tourism board. The guests included: Colin James, the CEO of the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority; Kathy Lammers, the chairman of the Regatta Organizing Committee for Antigua Sailing Week; and Dean Fenton, the senior tourism officer for Antigua and Barbuda’s Department of Tourism in New York.
Maginley explained last year, at the inaugural event, that he was motivated to create the race along with Roden because he was eager to raise the profile of the islands as a tourist destination among New Yorkers and East End residents in particular.
For more information on the race, visit www.antiguabarbudahamptonschallenge.com. For more information on the islands of Antigua and Barbuda, go to www.visitantiguabarbuda.com.