Boats trickled into Tyrell Bay for the Carriacou Sailing Series; three on a ship; two under tow; eight under sail. It was the 12th running of a small but mighty race with veteran crew who, like American Peggy Fisher-Cattan, declared, "It's the best race in the Caribbean." Since I've sampled some of the region's finest competitions, I skeptically signed on with the 43 foot Beneteau Wayward to see first-hand if the claim held water.
Jerome McQuilken, Wayward's owner and organizer of the series, brought me up to speed on the event that feeds into the Grenada Sailing Festival and the Tobago Carnival Regatta. "This is early in the season," he said. "This race is laid back, relaxed. This series is the smallest, each one gets bigger."
Wayward's crew for day one was a perfect mix of personalities from Trinidad, Grenada, Carriacou, Petite Martinique, Holland, Britain and the US, each with their own brand of English. Positions were assigned and the main raised against a wrestling breeze.
After Jerome announced, "Let's get ready to bless the deck," a bottle of rum appeared and crew hustled to the cockpit. He solemnly raised a capful to the sky, "To all of our ancestors, to our friends present and friends past, we honor your memory. To our loved ones. Bring us home safe and bring us home fast." A slosh hit the deck, the rest he downed, the cap was refilled and passed around until everyone partook of the old Scottish ritual.
The jib went up and we hit the course with plenty of opinion filling the air. Chief among the local talent was Carriacou's Hope McLawrence, 68, whose wizened face and agile body spoke of a life on the sea and a love for the water that surrounds his island. Effortlessly he called wind shifts, analyzed current, read the rocks and shallows and found the jobs that needed to be done.
With only nine boats in the racer/cruiser class and three in the Melges class, competition was fierce but safely-spaced, allowing for a day of uneventful sailing. After a mere two hours it ended, leaving plenty of daylight for the first party leg: the legendary lobster barbeque.
Wayward's crew led me onto the 96-foot motor vessel, Kathryn M, an oil platform supply ship from Trinidad that transported the fleet's finest, a scratch band and 100 lobsters to uninhabited Sandy Island for an outrageous, over-the-top fete. Open boats ferried revelers from ship to shore where they were greeted by the smell of grilled lobster and the world's largest cooler full of iced down drinks. The band played and people partied until food and the sun went down.
Day two saw more action that began when the aptly named Melges, Crash Test III, grazed the committee boat, luckily breaking only a spreader. An unofficial entrant, the steel ketch Salai, hit a reef off Mabouyu that held the sailors captive until cruiser/racer Mary Murray came to the rescue.
Darcy Carr of the Beneteau First Class 10, Wajang, recounted their excitement when a lifeline parted. "We were sailing along, had a little puff, I looked at the sails then down ay my crew … they were gone! They went off like peas in a pod!" Miraculously, Carr picked them up, hats and all, without ever dropping a sail.
The final day of racing delivered 27 knots winds with gusts to 40, making for a difficult start and some high stress driving downwind to the first mark, the outlying Sisters Rocks. Wayward, right on the stern of Rasmus, rounded the rocks on the inside so close that I wondered if I should stay on the boat or jump ashore.
On the upwind leg to Hillsborough, Archie Bethel sat on the rail calling the squalls, "Dis one gone knock us, den we run up. Drive she up J, up. Now!" It went on, one hard, long, salty tasting race with spinnaker sets and adroit navigating through coral studded shallows.
That evening it was the talk of the tent as awards, supplied by sponsors Peake Marine, Delta Seacor and Tyrell Bay Marina, were proudly accepted. The final prize for best pirate was presented, the DJ cranked up the already loud music … and then the party began.
Racer/Cruiser Class Overall Winners
1st Place – Category V (38 foot Hobie)
2nd Place – Wayward
3rd Place – Wajang
Melges Class Overall Winners
1st Place – Drunken Monkey
2nd Place – Crash Test III
3rd Place – Wasabi