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Work Boat Regattas – A Bahamian ‘Ting!

Regattas, the great unofficial national sport of the Bahamas, got their start in the 1950’s when skippers and owners of local fishing boats (sloops or “smack boats”) got together at various times and inevitably bragged about the speed of their boats and the skills of their crew (and themselves!). The boasting and bragging led to competitions to see who really could claim “braggin’ rights” and not just who had the loudest voice or most vivid imagination. And one ‘ting led to another ‘ting, and lo and behold, official regattas and the one true Bahamian sport were born and “off to the races” so to speak.

Hot PursuitBahamian regattas are a competition between traditional wooden work boats from the major islands of the Bahamas which helps to preserve a way of life from a time when such boats were the glue that held this country of far-flung islands with their disparate populations together, both in terms of fishing as a livelihood and communication and freight transportation between islands.

For the national All-Bahamian regattas throughout the islands over 50 traditional wooden boats compete in 5 different classes, ranging in size from 14 to 28 feet. All Bahamian work boats in these competitions

must follow certain rules: all cotton sails (though recently Oceanus sails allowed), no instruments besides a compass, no tell tales on the sails, no winches.

The boats are built according to traditional designs out of wood – sails (until very recently, all cotton) are hoisted by hand (no winches), and all races start from a dead start – this means at the starting signal, the crew must pull up the anchor and raise the sails. Most of the crew start pulling on the anchor line to give the boat forward momentum so the helmsman can start steering and then the rest of the crew start hoisting the main sail and foresail to catch the wind. Another feature of these traditional-style Bahamian sloops is “pries,” planks that can be put out on either side of the boat with crew members to give necessary ballast as the ship leans into the winds – the more wind, the more the weight needs to be on the high side.

The scene at the start line is a mess of sail and limbs trying to pull up anchor and hoist the main sail and catch a favourable wind, all without Bahamian Fleetwithout tangling with the sails of other boats or ramming them in the process. It’s a seeming chaos at the start, sprinkled with some choice salty language, but it makes for great and exciting competition. As one member of the Rage crew stated rather directly – “These are work boats, and well, let’s just say, it takes a lot of work to sail them!” Not to mention all the work in between to maintain them.

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Wednesday, April 4
Hope Town Sailing Club
Triangular Course
Charles Pollack Trophy

April 24 - 28
George Town, Exuma
National Family Island Regatta

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