This year was the 63rd Family National Island Regatta held in Elizabeth Harbor near George Town, Exuma, Bahamas. The first regatta was held in 1954 as a way to celebrate the end of fishing season. Originally the actual fishing sailing sloops were the race boats. Over the years the fishing boats were motorized; however, the sailing sloops were preserved and refined as race boats.
Tida Wave with two full pry boards
The sloops come in all sizes and race in 5 classes—A thru E. All have to look like traditional fishing sloops with long full keels, long booms, huge over canvassed mains, small jibs, and no winches. The most noticeable feature is a “pry board” which is run out to windward on every tack. Several men hike out on the board trying to hold down the overly large main sail.
Barbarian, a class C sloop, at the top mark. Note the large main sail.
The Bahamians hold several of these regattas around the country at different islands, usually about one per month except December and January. However, the George Town regatta is the grand daddy of them all and is recognized as the national championship. The regatta also serves as an excuse to have a party/festival/homecoming for the locals. Large numbers of Bahamians crowd into town including the reviled “Nassau people.” We cruisers are cautioned to lock up everything when “those people” are in town. However, White Pepper, never encountered any unpleasantness during the four day festival.
The Police Band opens up the closing festivities.
On Wednesday there were stand alone races for each class. On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday there was a series. Classes C,D, and E started together every morning. These boats typically have a crew of between two and five. There were probably 30 boats on the line. Although the race is supposed to start at 9 am, in practice, it starts when everybody shows up and is ready. The class B start is nominally at noon. There were 10 boats on the line. This was the most closely contested race every day. These boats are about 30 feet long and carry a crew of between 5 and 8. Class A is later in the afternoon. The class A boats are spectacular. They are fast, powerful and graceful. They are 40 feet long and carry a crew of between 12 and 18 . Most of the large crew is used as shifting ballast. Some of the boats use two pry boards in parallel, stacking 8 men out on the boards. There were only 7 boats in class A. The start was easily the most interesting part of their race. After the start class A was largely a parade with the famous Tida Wave usually leading wire to wire.
Just after the start of race 2 for class A. Click on pictures for a better look.
The finish of race 2 for class A. This was the only close finish for the class A boats with Tida Wave winning by a few seconds.
Rules change over the years for the Bahamian sloops, and I have not seen a complete set of rules. In the past skippers did not have to go back to pick up crew that accidentally or deliberately fell overboard. It is quite easy to fall off or get knocked off the pry board. Recently, that rule has changed to conform to the international rules. The most notable difference from yacht racing in the USA is that the boats start from an anchored position. When the gun goes off some of the crew pull on the anchor trying to get a little way on. The rest of the crew hauls up the sails without having the benefit of winches to tension the luff. The first sloop to get her sails full obviously has a huge advantage. The rest of the race proceeds much as a yacht race in America would except for the downwind legs. The boats proceed “wing and wing” downwind with huge mainsail out to port (always) and the small jib to weather which is always starboard. The pry board is used as necessary to balance the mail. The main sail on the Bahamian sloop is so large that jibing the boat would be unwise in any breeze at all. An accidental jibe might sweep men overboard and likely snap the mast. So the race course is always set up so that the downwind legs are on starboard board without jibes.
Class B boats running down to bottom mark, but no gybing.
I wish I could tell readers who won, but White Pepper did not go to the trophy presentation. The race committee has not yet discovered the internet. In class A Tida Wave from Staniel Cay certainly won for the 19th time (not an exaggeration) followed closely by Running Tide from Long Island. These two were clearly superior to the other five. The racing was much more closely contested in class B.
Furious action in class B
Ashore there was plenty of activity. The city has constructeTd a new bulkhead at Regatta Park and behind that there is a new gravel covered field where shacks were constructed for a festival site. The bulkhead was a surprise as it is rare these days for anything to get built and finished on time in the Bahamas. We spent most of Saturday at the Regatta Park or the Peace and Plenty Resort with friends soaking in the atmosphere and watching the races from ashore. Otherwise we were out in the dingy, Habanero, taking in the races from various vantage points around the course.
The new bulkhead and some class E dingies
'Da Peoples Choice' was our go to shack for beer and lunch.
Over all it was a very interesting and successful regatta week.
The Good News, a class A sloop from the Ragged Islands