At Home With A Champion Sailboat

Regatta fever continues! While I ready myself for the trip, I thought you might enjoy some journal excerpts from our local sailboat from earlier this year . . .

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Gently, I bob in the turquoise waters of my home in the out islands of the Bahamas. All 28 on-deck feet of my wooden hull bask in the new year’s sun, while my seven foot draw drifts on a single keel below and my 60 foot mast stands regally above. The massive canvas sheet which serves as my mainsail is drying out on land nearby. Thanks to my caring and competent crew, I am securely tied to the government dock, and I float above conch shells, small fish and the occasional nurse shark. I am resting after stretching my sea legs over the holidays. I raced four times over new year’s weekend – winning, every time!

The first three races were a series in the annual local regatta. I sailed, along with my ever-present-contender sister boat from here. We were also joined this year by another competitive A-Class sailboat. What a delightful challenge! This annual regatta is a more relaxed race because the purpose is to give all of the holiday visitors a taste of Bahamian sloop racing, even hosting visitors as guest crew on all three A-Class sailboats. However, even “relaxed” races are taken seriously by Bahamian sailors, and we raced our hearts out. Our guest crews performed well, and everyone had a great deal of fun on a gorgeous day. My captain also took a lot of teasing about me being so fast. “Do you have a motor in there?” “Why don’t you take it just a little bit easy on the other boats?” We just smile and know that we sail as best we can sail, every single time, in the great tradition of the great captains that charted the course of Bahamian sloop racing.

A few days later, I raced again, this time with visiting boats in the local New Year’s Day Cruising Regatta. For this race, I was the only Bahamian sloop, racing against other sailboats – 20 foot to 80 foot – and even some catamarans since monohull and multihull vessels race together in this unique local Cruising Regatta. Two especially beautiful sailboats provided some excitement with a near-collision on the start line – yikes! – but the skilled captains and crew averted catastrophe. After that, the race was fairly straight-forward. It was a cloudy day, but the winds were just right for my large sail. Since humans comprise a large percentage of my ballast, we have them stacked up on the wooden pries perched off my side, hanging on for dear life, and then scrambling to the other side every time we tack. And when I am on a strong reach and keeling hard, oh how my crew flies high in the air at the end of the pry. Of course, when winds fall out suddenly, these fine folks often get dunked into the sea until I get myself righted.

During this particular race, sailors were spared and mostly dry except for a few dangling legs. Your own Better Life Blogger participated in her first race and clung tightly to my pry. She knew that her primary responsibility was NOT TO FALL OFF! In Bahamian racing, if a crew member falls overboard, the boat must turn around to retrieve the person, which of course means lots of lost time and dooms a boat’s hopes for winning. Thankfully, everyone remained aboard and did well. One of the catamarans gave me a run for my money towards the end, pressing too close for comfort, but I was able to hold steady and cross the finish line in first place.

During our local regattas, all of the races take place on a triangular course in the harbor just west of the public beach. From here, the shoreline gives me views of the big marina, rental cottages, health clinic, a restaurant, a bar, a bakery, a few small stores, the church and the brightly colored homes dotting the Village and other areas of the island. But today, I rest up near the shore, mast standing proudly while the rigging gently slaps against it in the wakes from passing boats. I know I must rest. Regatta (around here, there’s only one regatta that gets that shorthand – the National Family Island Regatta in George Town every April) is coming up in a few short months. I will be ready.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

I was dozing in the spectacular rays of the setting sun when a flurry of activity called me to attention this evening. The “mail boat” – one of several cargo ships contracted by the Bahamian government to deliver mail and freight to the out islands – had pulled in to the government dock on its return to Nassau. Very graciously, the mail boat planned to use its large crane to remove my immense mast, and the mast of my sister boat, until time to re-set them for Regatta. My captain and crew bustled around, loosing me from my current mooring and pulling me around to the other side of the mail boat. My sister boat and I took turns and oh-so-carefully had our masts removed. The crew closed down all the rigging, then wrapped everything tightly with a line. My captain looped a thick rope on the crane’s hook and raised the loop around my mast up to the middle. From below deck, one of the crew hammered loose the supports for my mast. Then, as the mail boat captain shouted directions to the crane operator, the crane began to pull and lift, while my captain and a crew member guided my mast up, up, up. All sixty feet leaned long over the bow of the mail boat and tilted down toward land. About 10 men from the crews hurried to the dock to ease the mast gently onto the ground. Oops, it bounced a bit, but my talented boat builders made all parts of me strong, so it was just fine!

From there, the guys carried my mast up onto shore where it will wait for me to join it in the boatyard for a fresh coat of paint before Regatta. Meanwhile, my captain and other crew moved me back around to tie up at the government dock and batten down all my hatches. It was a chilly, windy evening, but the shouts and laughter of everyone warmed every wooden plank in my body. There is a lot of love on this island, and in this country, for sailing, and I am so thankful for the special care given to me by my owners, sailors and fans!


Blogger’s Post-Script

This beloved sailboat proceeded to rest until a few weeks ago. The men hauled her up onto shore, set braces against the hull so she would stand upright, and proceeded to give her a fresh paint (turning themselves as blue as smurfs in the process). They then slid her back into the water – about twelve strong men pushing from each side – and she was anchored by the dock again. A week or two ago, the mail boat set her mast – reversing the process described in the journal above – and the crew rigged her up and placed the lead ballast. She’s now ready for a tow to Regatta where she will race in all her glory!

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