Newly restored schooner cruiser-racer Adela: 'Some of the best sailing of my whole life’ (2024)

The archetypal schooner cruiser-racer is back on the Caribbean circuit. Nigel Sharp joined Adela's crew for its first regatta in five years, the Antigua Superyacht Challenge

At least eight determined and energetic crew were out on schooner cruiser-racer Adela’s bowsprit and netting. They were frantically trying to unhank and retrieve the remains of the No1 jib which, with very little time before the race start, had suddenly torn from leech to luff. But very quickly they managed to remove it and replace it with a No2 jib, just in time for us to surge across the start line off Fort Charlotte near the entrance to Antigua’s English Harbour.

Adela was back where she belongs, on a Caribbean racecourse in brisk tradewinds, and it was game on!

Adela will be a familiar sight to so many. Signposted by her spinnaker emblazoned with the huge ‘A’ logo, she has been a stalwart of superyacht regattas in the first two decades of this century.

Newly restored schooner cruiser-racer Adela: 'Some of the best sailing of my whole life’ (1)

Photo: Claire Matches

Built by Pendennis Shipyard and launched in 1995, she is a near replica of a 1903 schooner (originally of the same name but later renamed Heartsease) which was designed by William Storey and built by Fay & Co in Southampton. The main differences are that the newer version – whose design was updated by Gerard Dykstra – is of steel construction instead of composite, has a modern underwater profile and more beam, and is Bermudan rigged instead of gaff.

At the time of Adela’s launch her main mast was easily the longest carbon spar to be built, her foremast almost certainly the second longest, and her 471m2 triangular mainsail was the largest ever produced by North.

In 2000, Pendennis literally cut Adela’s hull in half to allow her length to be extended by 3.6m. This was to provide better crew quarters but did also, of course, improve her sailing performance by increasing the waterline length and by further separating the rigs. She now has a hull length of 46.0m, a length over spars of 55.5m, and a displacement of 270 tonnes.

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Schooner cruiser-racer tuning up for success

During her previous ownership, Adela cruised and raced all over the world. Not only did she have her share of success in regattas throughout the Caribbean and Mediterranean, in San Francisco, New England and Cowes, she also won line honours in the 1997 Transatlantic race from New York to the Lizard.

In the early years a relatively casual attitude was taken to racing – for instance the tenders were left on deck, and she was often raced by barely more than the permanent crew and using just white sails. However, as time went on it was taken more seriously, with increasing numbers of professional race crew and the acquisition of North 3Di racing sails, including a square-top main and fore.

Newly restored schooner cruiser-racer Adela: 'Some of the best sailing of my whole life’ (4)

‘A race crew of 20 joined the permanent crew of nine’ Photo: Claire Matches

Long-standing race crewmember Neil Mackley from North Sails explained how much difference these latter additions made to the yacht’s handling. “With a cruising ‘pinhead’ mainsail, the sail would get deeper and wouldn’t twist, whereas with square-tops you can depower the main when you twist it open. And when you consider the size of Adela’s aft main, this drives the boat more than the rudder in the water.”

In 2019 Adela was purchased by Brazilian Benjamin Steinbruch, and although he has cruised on her extensively since then, it was not until March of this year that he raced on her for the first time. Adela had previously taken part in the Antigua Superyacht Challenge six times, and this was the regatta that Steinbruch chose for his racing initiation.

Returning to Antigua

A race crew of 20 or so hands joined Adela’s permanent crew of nine, and although a large proportion of them had sailed on her before, a couple of days’ training would be invaluable. Close coordination between different crewmembers is essential from the point of view of safety – sheet loads, for instance, can be over 10 tonnes – as well as racing efficiency, and the slightest mistake can be costly.

This was highlighted on the second training day when the 1,000m2 Code 4 asymmetric ‘big red’ spinnaker was severely damaged during a less-than-perfect hoist.

Newly restored schooner cruiser-racer Adela: 'Some of the best sailing of my whole life’ (5)

A hot and tired crew sheltering behind the high bulwarks after another kite pack. Photo: Nigel Sharp

In fact, we left part of the sail in the sea and when we returned to it, crewmember Ewen Kinna had to take a swim to help retrieve it. Hence our second training day was in preference to the 47-mile race anticlockwise around Antigua. This was won by the mighty 60m ketch Hetairos in 3h 49m, just over three frustrating minutes outside her own 2022 race record and so just missing out on the prize of the skipper’s weight in rum.

A series of four races followed off the south coast of Antigua in gloriously classic Caribbean conditions with winds between 14 and 20 knots from a roughly easterly direction along with a great deal of hot sunshine. The seven competing boats started individually at four-minute intervals in a semi-pursuit style of racing, with the ORC Super Yacht Rule (ORCsy) being used for handicapping.

Newly restored schooner cruiser-racer Adela: 'Some of the best sailing of my whole life’ (6)

A comfortable spot for the formidable afterguard, including Joca Signorini helming, Paul Deeth, Hugh Agnew, Guy Salter and Rosco Monson. Photo: Nigel Sharp

On board Adela, long-term captain Greg Perkins took a step back and handed over control to the race crew afterguard, which included Brazilian helmsman Joca Signorini (2004 Olympian and veteran of three Volvo races, including the 2008/09 race which he won on Ericsson 4), tactician Rosco Monson and crew boss Guy ‘Nipper’ Salter.

Lines of communication

One of the most important lines of communication on any race boat is between the helmsman and sail trimmers. “Adela is very sensitive to the trim of the sails,” said Signorini. “Consistent communication with the trimmers is super important.”

However, the helmsman cannot see the headsail telltales or the foremain on Adela, nor can he see the headsail trimmers as they operate forward of a substantial doghouse. The radio system that should have provided the solution was only working intermittently so occasionally had to be substituted with relayed hand signals.

Newly restored schooner cruiser-racer Adela: 'Some of the best sailing of my whole life’ (7)

The steel hulled Adela makes a splendid sight as she barrels to weather displacing nearly 300 tonnes of Caribbean sea. Photo: Claire Matches

It was hot, hard work for the majority of the crew throughout the races. For instance, to avoid the spinnaker filling at any time other than when it was fully hoisted, it would be contained in an integral tube held together by a zipper as it was hoisted, and then snuffed before it was lowered.

As soon as it came down it was laid along one side deck (taking most of the length of the boat), while every available crewmember worked together – often with very little time before the next downwind leg – to pull the snuffer back to the head of the sail and then carefully re-pack the sail inside the zippered tube.

Always a winner

We had our share of problems during the regatta. The racing sails had spent the last five years in an inhospitably hot container in Antigua. That was deemed to be the cause of the swift demise of the No1 jib, while three other sails were removed for repair after they showed signs of potential problems.

Newly restored schooner cruiser-racer Adela: 'Some of the best sailing of my whole life’ (8)

Note the old pinhead mainsail back in use. Photo: Claire Matches

Also, the racing mainsail had to be replaced by the Spectra/Carbon Gatorback cruising main after the first day of practice. “It reminded us how misbalanced the boat was before the square-top main was fitted,” adds Mackley.

Then, just as we were bearing away around the first mark in the first race, first our keel, and then our rudder, snagged on its ground tackle, even though we were about 20m from the mark itself. Nevertheless, none of this takes anything away from the fact that Adela’s race crew mostly got the very best out of this magnificent schooner, and clearly enjoyed themselves enormously.

From a personal perspective from my position tending the fore lower runners, it was some of the best sailing of my whole life, and the sight and sound of the outrageously powerful bow wave surging along the sides of the hull will live with me for some time.

Things didn’t exactly go our way in terms of racing results, however. Each day it didn’t seem long before the giant green Hetairos, the only other boat in our class, and which started 16 minutes after Adela, came past us at lightning speed.

But Adela was still a winner. As a result of a unanimous vote by the other competing boats and each member of the race committee, she was presented with the prestigious Gosnell Trophy, awarded to the yacht which competed ‘in the spirit of the regatta, both afloat and ashore’.

“This is the first time I have been in this environment and it has been fantastic,” said Steinbruch in his acceptance speech. “The spirit of the team, their passion, the history, and the philosophy of Adela is wonderful. I am very proud to have the chance to be with Adela. I hope to be back many times in the future.”

“I’m absolutely thrilled to have Adela back on the race circuit, and really look forward to this new chapter of the boat” added his skipper Perkins. “There are exciting things ahead!”

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Newly restored schooner cruiser-racer Adela: 'Some of the best sailing of my whole life’ (2024)

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