Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Family Islands Regatta

Coconut Harvest Event (March 2011)

March brings the mayhem of The Cruising Regatta to Elizabeth Harbour and Stocking Island in the Exumas.  After many of the 500 or so cruising boats anchored in Elizabeth Harbour disperse to other parts of the Bahamas, it is time for The Family Islands Regatta.  Proceeds raised from The Cruising Regatta helps George Town put on The Family Islands Regatta each April. 

After the abolishment of slavery, many of the then failing plantations were deeded to the freed slaves who often took the surnames of their previous owners.  These “families” took on administering their own islands.  “The Local Government Act” of 1996 formalized the process.  Today there are 38 districts or Family Island Administrations.

For the Bahamas, The Family Islands Regatta is the World Series, Super Bowl, and World Cup all rolled into one.  It began in the 1950’s as powered boats were replacing the Bahamian working sail craft and many wanted to save the traditional boats.  In 1954 nearly 70 Bahamian sloops, schooners and dinghies gathered in Elizabeth Harbour for sailing and “related” activities.

The early contestant’s boats were working vessels, but as rivalries and prize money increased newer boats designed solely for racing began to appear.  Today, Bahamian sloop racing rules are clear.  The boats must be designed, built, owned, skippered, and primarily crewed by Bahamians.  The length (LOA) must not be more than 28’3”, sails must be canvass, the hull made of wood, and the single wooden mast must not be bent.  No bowsprits, spreaders, winches, or any sort of a wind instrument including tell-tales are allowed.

Because these boats were initially designed as working boats for the shallow Bahamian waters, they do not have the deep keels or ballast.  Instead they rely on prys, wooden planks that crew members extend out on the windward side and then climb onto.  Tacking can be a real challenge on the triangular race course and sometimes crew members are lost overboard.  However, any boat that does not stop for a MOB is disqualified.

Spectators are allowed to follow the action in dinghies and other boats.  Sometimes there appears to be more spectator boats than racing sloops.  We watched from the safety of the back deck of our boat because I do not think they are required to pickup spectator MOBs.

Picture ceremony on one of the wining boats, Tida Wave

Cruising friends advised us that the music from the Government Dock lasted until 4:00 AM on the Friday night before the end of the regatta.  Celebrations were much more subdued on the last night of regatta.  Chat n’ Chill was hopping, but that is normal.

Then on Sunday the regatta was over and everyone headed home to prepare for next year.

No comments:

Post a Comment