The crew of Class-A sloop Southern Cross use their weight on the pry board to balance the huge sail area.
The Class B boat, Lady Nathalie, is slower because these are full keel hulls, and she is smaller—21-feet-long—than the Class A boats which are 28-feet long. Today there will be five Class A boats chasing Lady Nathalie—Ed Sky, Running Tide, Red Stripe, Southern Cross, and Good News. Because Lady Nathalie is slower, she is given a 10- to 15minute head start over the Class A sloops. This advantage is calculated by the race committee from the length of the course and the wind speed. Lady Nathalie tries to outrun the larger and faster Class A sloops chasing her. As her lead shrinks, onshore crowds cheer for her to survive and cross the finish line before her pursuers catch her. Going into this year’s regatta, Lady Nathalie holds a 16-13 record. In the 29year history of the regatta, Lady Nathalie’s won 16 times, and one of the Class A sloops overtook her 13 times. Still worried about the shotgun, I ride with Armbrister as he sets up the race course, towing boats—none are equipped with engines—to their positions behind the starting line. My qualms ease somewhat as Armbrister, descended like most Bahamians from a seafaring family, skillfully operates our boat through chaos. We miss by inches the long wooden booms and hiking spars (called pry-boards) overhanging the sloops’ decks as we transfer leaping, agile race crew to their boats. Like the sloop builders and the sloop skippers, Armbrister does not rely on technology. Basically, he doesn’t need to, as he is descended from seafarers—salt water flows in his veins, his DNA. He uses instinct and knowledge, not navigational aids, as he reads the wind and the water. 28
I watch with growing respect as he uses only a towel, a megaphone, and a shotgun to start the race, assisted onboard by Linrose Humes from the Ministry of Agriculture & Marine Resources. The Towel First, Armbrister sets the starting line and weather mark, holding up a simple flapping towel to check that his course is set exactly to windward. No instruments. I double check his calcs on my smartphone GPS…he’s right on the money. “It’s important the starting line is set perfectly to weather; these heavy boats are expensive to repair and can’t maneuver with their big booms,” he explains. For safety, sloop races start at anchor, sails down. “We don’t want anybody to be hurt. All boats must come off the starting line on starboard tack.” The Megaphone Armbrister drives up to each sloop, shouting out the course—three laps and finish in front of the beach—and counting down the minutes to the race start. In international yacht racing, the committee communicates through signal flags—sometimes resulting in boats sailing off in the wrong direction due to a misinterpretation—but here in the Bahamas they use a less fussy, more personal touch. “We don’t use flags. We make sure everyone understands the course. If I move a marker during the race, I must tell all the boats before I move it, or they get mad, so I don’t change the course much.” www.southwindsmagazine.com
Published on Apr 30, 2017
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