Regatta Prep: Launching the Sailboat!
I’m so excited for Regatta!
(Roundup of background info here for those of you who may have missed it.)
Our local community sends two A-class sailboats to the race every year, both of them national champions several times over. The boats are already moored securely in George Town, where the Regatta will take place. Meanwhile, however, I thought I’d give you a glimpse into some of the preparation that goes into getting these boats ready.
Boat Building and Repair
I think these traditional Bahamian sloops are so beautiful – for their clean lines and sail-filled grace, as well as for the hard work and decades of tradition that go into building, maintaining and racing them.
The wooden sloops are Bahamian-built, Bahamian-owned, and Bahamian-sailed (with the rules permitting up to 4 non-Bahamians to crew during races). They are hand-built and locally maintained. One of my favorite memories from years ago was spending time in the boatyard while one of the local boats was taken down to the skeletal bones and completely re-planked by hand.
Currently, the boats are in good condition. Even so, every season requires some TLC, small repairs and fresh paint to ready them for the next round of races. The local community takes great pride in these boats and wants them to look fantastic as they skim the water and represent the special sailing traditions of our community throughout the Bahamas.
During the past winter months, the sailboats were on land. Just below, the boat that Beau skippers is seen getting a few tweaks and not yet finally painted. It’s braced on either side and resting in the local boatyard, which enjoys beautiful sunsets and where the men often gather to work on the boat, chatter and trash talk, grill out and drink beer.
By March, the sailboat was in prime condition, freshly painted and looking beautiful. It was time to put her back in the water and let her settle and get her sea legs back under her.
So, one afternoon last month, the men launched her! And what an experience that is. Still very old-school. Lots of excitement. Lots of cooperation.
I arrived on the scene around 4:00 that afternoon, and the process was already underway. The men had laid out wooden planks along the ground toward the sea to help the boat slide. Removing the braces that had been supporting her on land, approximately 20 men now held her up, 10 on each side.
A long rope was tied to her bow and secured on a truck up in the boatyard. The line remained taut to hold the boat steady. When the men were ready to push the boat down toward the water, the man at the truck would slack the rope to let her go in a controlled fashion.
The men did this incrementally. Slack the rope. Slide the boat 5-10 feet. Stop. Reassess. Adjust boards. Go again.
This is all done at very low tide. See the greenish rocks that appear on the bottom of the beach? Those are usually underwater. The idea is to push the boat into the water at the lowest of tide. Then, when the tide comes in, it will float her up.
Into the water now, she’s almost where she needs to be. See above where someone is bringing the land braces down to water’s edge to support her again when they’re done? Below, two men are checking and guiding the tow line between the boat and the truck before the next round.
Video Clip of the Action
Want a glimpse of the real action? The brief video clip below shows you just one little push in the phase. You’ll see and hear Beau directing traffic as the men push and chatter. For the discerning ears and eyes, you will hear Beau yell, “Slack it up, Sandy!” at which point you see the line drop loose as Sandy, up at the truck, slacks it loose, and the pushing begins.
See for yourself!
Finishing the Launch
Now, the boat is in the water. The crew, with their pants legs rolled up, give her one last push and rest her on the braces.
Captain Beau deems it complete. Raising his hand, he yells, “Hold up! Hold up!”
The men come out of the water, laughing and talking.
The men carry the planks back into the boatyard and gather around for more laughing, stories, race talk, and cooling off with some drinks. In addition to the regular crew for this boat, the 20 men helping with the launch included captains and crew from our other local sailboat, as well as a neighboring island’s race boat. Despite the fierce competition during the race, I love the camaraderie and helpfulness that exists among these boats and crew.
With her freshly painted rudder hanging to dry in a tree in the boatyard, the newly launched sailboat rests.
Floating Her Up
After dinner that night, Beau and I took flashlights to ward off the dark and jackets to guard against the light rain. We picked up Sandy and drove the truck into the boatyard, headlights blazing, to check on the boat.
Sure enough, tide had come in and she was floating.
Having been braced with one on each side, the sea had risen to her water line and gently lifted her up off of the braces.
Sandy went to get a dinghy, Beau climbed aboard the sailboat and another crew member came to help. Together, armed with just a flashlight in the dark, rainy night, the men secured a line and towed the sailboat around the corner of the island to the dock.
I described how readily the wooden sloop floated up as the tide came in. In the coming days, the men would add LOTS of heavy lead weights to the bottom of the boat as ballast and otherwise get her ready.
This will include setting her 60-foot masts, to be covered in the next blog post!
What do you think? Can you taste the excitement? Have you ever seen a boat launched in this fashion?