Family Island Regatta in George Town

Phil & Nikki Hoskins
Sun 27 Apr 2014 22:33
We decided to stay in George Town for the Family Island Regatta which takes place annually during the week after Easter. It runs in conjunction with regattas in other Bahamas islands held throughout the year. George Town ran the inaugural event some 61 years ago at which time 'Skip' was probably suffering from nappy rash and the 'Admiral' was just a twinkle etc.
These events keep the spirit of sailing traditional boats alive in the islands harping back to the times when everything was transported by sailing vessels carrying produce and livestock. The boats that are raced now pay little heed to modern sailboat hull design and are inherently unstable with their enormous but well cut mainsails. To keep the boats upright human ballast is required (on windy days in some quantity) especially on the 'A Class' sloops - the largest of the Bahamas sailing designs! When the wind blows hard it can be a precarious job sitting way out on a plank of wood with the possibility of being jettisoned into the air along with your fellow crew members should nature prevail. At least the water is warm!
Easter was late this year so the regatta started last Wednesday and finished on Saturday 26th. The pictures we took reflect 'A' and 'B' class events over several of the days. Most were taken at one of the turning marks which all of the boats have to round as part of the course, with chaotic scenes and much shouting amongst crews as they jockey for best position before heading off to the next mark. These regatta events are taken seriously by the crews although whether from having better sails or just faster hulls there can be quite a large gap between first and last in.
However, first the boats have to get to George Town from other islands in the Bahamas and so a few days before the start of racing a number of large ferries carrying the boats, some already rigged, arrive through Conch Cay Cut into Elizabeth Harbour. The atmosphere winds up from there. The boats are unloaded at the Government Dock amidst much jocular and ribald commenting between the crews to start the process of 'winding-up'. These guys race against each other at most of the regattas so know their opponents pretty well. The banter is hilarious to listen to although understanding all of it can be a challenge. In the back drop of the dock a whole bevy of shacks are erected for the duration of the event mainly selling beer and street food.
The 'Captain Moxey' arrives at Government Dock George Town with it's own precious cargo of racing boats, and the job of unloading starts...
...well, for some anyway.........                                                        ... whilst dock side it time to sort the rigs out
Shore side the finishing touches are made to the various refreshment shacks whilst ''ol coconut man minds 'coconut baby'!
Some boats arrived late. There was a rush to get the them all rigged and ready on time for the Wednesday start. With each boat beautifully painted in traditional colours and all of the rivalry going on it was great to be around George Town to see the event unfolding and sample the pre-race atmosphere.
Unfortunately the weather was not co-operating with light winds forecast for at least the first few days. Given that we've had good winds blowing in recent weeks this was a real disappointment. The first day's racing proved to be almost a drift around the course - very frustrating for the skippers and crew meaning they had to wait longer to get back to town for a cool beer.
Out in the harbour the first of the 'B' class racing boats gets away as they slowly drift on the downwind leg towards the second mark.....
Just to make sure the rules are followed 'megaphone man' they arrive at the mark to start their turn back towards town...
which is where 'tings get ingression!..... chaotic would be a better description .. with the long boom overhangs on the boats the inevitable shouting starts as foredeck crews push adjoining boats away, or their booms anyway... and off they go on the next leg without too much harm done
The following day conditions improved as a large bank of cloud hovered over much of the island chain offering better breeze for the 'A' class fleet
and some human ballast was called to work to keep the boats upright and racing...
'A' Class sloops at the turning mark watched by many spectator boats.....
...and a dawg thought it was going 'walkies'                        Meanwhile the boats set off on the downwind leg with their mainsails spread out wide
...others follow, whilst a close-up reveals the precariousness of the human ballast sitting perched out on a wooden plank
On the last day of the regatta the weather was still not playing fair. A weak cold front swept in from the west to produce squally rain showers and not a few lightening flashes in the vicinity of George Town. Some a little too close for comfort.  The front eventually meandered off and the racing was completed with some tense moments in the final 'A' class race when 'Tida Wave' was pronounced the overall winner due only to a protest from another boat having been hit when on starboard tack by what would have been the overall winner in that class 'Running Tide' who were on port tack and therefore the 'give way' vessel. Yes, there are some rules amongst the chaos. But plenty of shenanigans as well. We missed this last race as the Bahamas Police Marching Band were in town for one of their popular performances as was the Prime Minister of the Bahamas, The Rt. Hon. Perry Christie. We wanted to catch that spectacle, the band that is, which it indeed was. So the famous Bahamas Police Marching Band is covered in the next blog.
Finally, couldn't resist with the aid of Photoshop turning back the years and seeing how they would have looked before the days of colour photography or digital cameras...
A bygone age or 21st's hard to tell, and that's a refreshing thought in this day and age!