55th Family Island Regatta

Georgetown, Great Exuma Island, Bahamas

21st - 26th April 2008

Excitement mounted in Georgetown as ships began to arrive in the harbour laden with small sailing sloops, participants in the 55th Family Island Regatta, a highlight of the Bahamian annual calendar.     Suddenly the government dock was lined with shacks which would be offering all kinds of refreshments to crew and spectators for the duration of the regatta.   

The first races were scheduled for Tuesday.  On Monday, the crane arrived on the dock to lift the racing sloops ashore, to be rigged ready to race.    

Of course, in true island style, things did not go quite to plan.    There was a hydraulics breakdown on the crane, causing considerable delay.    Once repaired, somehow the crane managed to tip over with the boom and one of the racing boats ending up in the sea.     Somehow, however, the boats managed to get rigged in time and the crews began practising for the races 

Setting up the masts.......

Ken on Badgers Sett gets a good photo opportunity as a practising crew pass perilously close!

Our particular interest was in the Class C boats entered by Christopher's friend Hughrie from Barraterre.    Three class C boats built by Hughrie were racing for the village, captained by himself and his sons.   Hughrie's  "Fisherman's Inn", Fenton's "I've Tried" and Headley's "Golden Girl" made up our team, as well as one smaller class D dinghy.   These were the two smaller classes of boats with no foresail, just a mainsail.

Christopher was to be in charge of the team's chase boat, the power boat which assists the racing boats prior to the start, if necessary, collects any crew who may fall overboard and be unable to continue racing and collects any discarded ballast of lead or sandbags, on the way around the buoys.      On the first day of racing he took Phil along as his crew with Zappa and Shelley, the dogs.    Zappa was quickly fired from the team for being afraid of the starting gun!   

The start line was always a little chaotic.    The boats all had to be anchored behind the line before the starting gun and on hearing the start signal, the bow man began hauling frantically on the anchor line, whilst the rest of the crew made sail as quickly as possible.   Of course, with around thirty small boats sailing to the start line and dropping their anchors close together ready for the start, there was always some rearranging and reshuffling of boats.    This was where the chase boat sprang into action if the boats needed to re-anchor in a different position.     Often the team's boats would be anchored ready in a good position, when a competitors boat, arriving later for the start, would anchor dangerously close or in a perceived better position, leading to many incomprehensible, high volume exchanges between competitors and frequent re-anchoring manoeuvres with assistance from the chase boats.

The crew of Golden Girl eagerly await the gun


With this type of boat, once the race began, you sailed with whatever sail you had set up.     Sometimes the decision to reef the sail for higher winds was made at the last minute before the gun and proved to be quite a perilous operation, unless carried out from the relative safety of the chase boat.    The decision on how many crew to carry could also be made at the last minute.    Whilst it was permitted to discard excess ballast of lead bars or sandbags during the race, crew ballast was not allowed to be thrown overboard!

The major strategic decision by the skippers of  which tack to begin the race on could also lead to chaos, if neighouring boats headed off in opposing directions.   The occasional collision was a normal event.

Last minute sail reefing operation

Hughrie's boat in collision shortly after the start

The smaller D class boats would race the same course at the same time, starting a little behind the line for the class C boats.     There were fewer boats in this class, normally only three for each race.    This 55th annual regatta was, for Jack skipper of "Regret" also his 55th annual regatta!

Barraterre's Class D boat

Jack's 55th regatta

The course for the races varied depending on wind direction, with normally a couple of laps from the start to a windward mark and back, the finish line being off the Government dock which was lined with spectators.   Strategy proved important as boats clustered to tack around the windward mark, with boats battling to be on the starboard tack and have the right of way.     The long over-hanging booms of the boats sometimes became tangled as boats squeezed close together around the windward buoy and one one occasion this ended in disaster with a broken boom for one participant.

Approaching the windward mark

Collision chaos and a broken boom.

Successfully around the mark

As the week went on, it wasn't only the racing which became more intense.     The partying also seemed to get tougher and it was noticeable that the start time seemed to become a little more flexible towards the end of the regatta, with racers often having to wait at the start line for somewhat hung-over stragglers to arrive.

Life in the start boat was occasionally fraught with peril.    It seemed a daily occurrence that the chase boat was handed over with insufficient petrol for the outboard, leading to tricky re-fuelling operations in the swelly harbour during the races.


Decisions to re-locate the racing boats' anchors at the start line proved particularly dangerous for the crew of the chase boat.    After taking up the dinghies' anchors, the full force of the weight of the racing boat would be on its anchor line, in the hands of the chase boat crew.    Luckily Christine and Vivian always kept their heads down for this operation as, on the last day of racing, a re-anchoring operation ended in disaster.     The anchor line of Hughrie's sailboat was taken up as a result of a last minute strategic decision.  During the challenging task of repositioning the anchor ready for the start, the anchor line caught on the throttle of the chase boat, the force on the line not only completely tearing off the throttle lever but also leaving us in full forward throttle, with no lever to slow the boat down,    As we swung around the race boats at high speed, nearly taking out the start line buoy, Chris quickly pulled the engine kill switch, averting more serious disaster.    For the rest of the race, the teams had to go it alone as the chase boat managed to limp slowly back to safety!

Of course, during the week the chase boat crew also managed to fit in some partying, sampling the local fare and beverages on offer from the shacks on the dock.     

Christopher and Vivian embarrassed by Phil!

Christine and Vivian strut their funky stuff......



......and end the evening carrying Christopher home!

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