First Annual Bahamian
“Best of the Best” Regatta The Best Bahamian Racing Sloops and Skippers sail off in Nassau December 1-4 By Jan Pehrson Cover: An A Class racing sloop in the Best of the Best Regatta. Photo by Patrick Hanna. Photos by Jan Pehrson unless noted otherwise.
arrived at the Best of the Best Regatta by blind luck. At 2am, on a dark and moonless Saturday morning, Nov. 26, my friend Capt. Ken and I left Biscayne Bay, FL, under sail for the Bahamas on his Morgan Out Island 36, Slowpoke. Thirty-six hours later, south of Nassau with engine trouble, we headed into the port of Nassau to make repairs. So far this doesn’t sound lucky, I know. But here’s the lucky part. We landed in Bay Shores Marina, where I immediately recognized the Harbor Master, Lundy Robinson. I have photographed Bahamian sloop racing twice for SOUTHWINDS and have seen Robinson, a frequent class-winner, on the podium collecting prize money and trophies. “We are having a sloop regatta this weekend, it’s called the ‘Best of the Best,’ ” Robinson said. “It’s the first annual. Sloops must qualify to be invited. They then compete to become the ‘Best of the Best of the Best.’ Would you like to come?” Wow! A chance to watch the fastest Bahamian sloops fly over the water, the largest, 28 feet on deck, carrying about 1200 square feet of canvas ballasted by lead and crew. In America, kids learn to ride bikes. In the Bahamas, kids learn to sail boats. The crew—maybe 15-18 people total on a windy day—are experienced, cool and collected, but from a distance appear to be hanging on to the rocketing sloops for their lives. Maybe eight sit one-behind-the-other on the “pry board”—balancing the huge mainsail.
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“Sure,” I told Robinson. “I’d love to.” I’m a huge fan of sloop racing. Much more fun than conventional yacht racing, this sport, both traditional and thrilling, began in 1954 when it morphed out of workboats used for Bahamian fishing and transportation. Sloops are made and sailed by real people using their hands and their skills, not technology. Hulls and spars must be made of wood, with sails of canvas. Owners, skippers and builders must be Bahamian. No winches or navigational aids (except a simple compass) are permitted. All the sloops are different, because in the Bahamas, builders design for the winds and waters of their home island. Skippers sail with friends and family from home, so crew work is tight. At the same time, the sport is traditional and an extreme adrenaline blast. The only size restriction is the length of the boats. (Class A – 28 feet; Class B – 21 feet; Class C – 17 feet). The number of crew, mast height, boom length and amount of lead ballast—all are unlimited. Before the racing started, Robinson arranged for me to interview all five Class A skippers. I asked them all the same questions, so I might learn their go-fast secrets: “Your sloop qualified for the ‘Best of the Best’ Regatta. What makes it so fast?” and, “As a skipper, you personally qualified for the ‘Best of the Best’ Regatta. What makes you sail so fast?” Here is what they told me… www.southwindsmagazine.com
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