Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Party Time: Family Island Regatta-Style, Georgetown, Great Exuma, Bahamas

Friday, April 22 – Saturday, April 30, 2011

Welcome to the 58th Annual Family Island Regatta! The regatta is held each year in Georgetown, and the sloops involved are all designed, built, owned, and sailed by locals from all over the Bahamas. This is THE event in the Bahamas (think of it as their Super Bowl, World Cup, and World Series all rolled into one), and adults and kids alike are given time off from work/school to attend.

We had originally planned on missing the regatta (silly us) to get a head start towards Conception, San Salvador, and Rum Cay on our way to the Turks and Caicos. Big surprise, our plans changed. As often happens with us, we began talking to others about the event, and soon had it drilled into our brains that this was an event we could NOT miss. Mother Nature seemed to agree with everyone else, because the weather soon turned less than ideal for the 40+ mile crossing to Conception. In the end, we decided to hang out with Storyville, Genesis, and Pa’La O’La in our favorite Georgetown anchorage, Red Shanks; Red Shanks was close enough to town to party when we wanted to, yet far enough away to get out of the craziness if need be.

The first race was held on Wednesday, offering us a chance to see the various classes – from the 28’ A class to the 18’ C class – in action. The most notable thing about the boats is their length to sail-plan ratio; these hand-made sloops average 20-30 feet in length, but their masts are nearly as high as ours (60’), and their boom is even longer; overall, the amount of canvas (sail) they fly is more than most cruising boats, and they are frighteningly unstable in heavy-wind conditions. Having no engine, participating boats must be towed out to the starting mark and then drop anchor. When the starting gun goes off, a few crew members begin hand-raising the anchor while others raise the sails. If a gust of wind knocks the boat sideways, everyone crawls out onto a plank hanging from the side of the boat (think “human counter-balance”); not doing it quickly enough could put you and the boat underwater. Talk about a show! The boats are beautiful with their sails flying, and the crowd really gets into it as islanders cheer for their favorites. Long Island and Black Point seem to have some of the most successful boats, and their followers are constantly egging each other on. In between races, you can grab BBQ ribs, jerk chicken, or a cold beer at one of 30 tin-roofed, plywood stands that get put up the week before the regatta.

The only downer to the regatta was the weather. As Mother Nature decided we needed to stay for the race, she also decided it was time to help the locals fill up their cisterns. Prior to the regatta, we could count on one hand the number of rainy days we’ve had since arriving in January; thanks to a tropical wave that came from the Turks & Caicos, downpours coursed through the Georgetown area for three of four days during the regatta. As much as the Bahamas needed the rain, this really wasn’t the time for it! Our first afternoon in town was spent running from observation spot to rain shelter and back again. We managed to go out in our dinghy and follow the boats during the last race, but headed home early to avoid getting soaked by yet another black cloud. We just made it to Pipe’s cockpit as the heavy drops hit…perfect timing since we hadn’t fully closed our hatches.

The rain kept us on the boat Thursday, but we made it back into town for more regatta excitement on Friday. We all left Red Shanks for the Monument anchorage on Saturday, in order to be closer to the beach where we’ll have Stacy’s birthday bash on Sunday. That, and we’ve recently been having problems with our dinghy engine…but that’s a story for another time. Til then…


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