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Regatta Season, Ocean Racing and Coconuts

 

Regatta season is underway. It opened in December with the St. Maarten/St. Martin Course de l’Alliance and spread to the other islands in quick succession. The Caribbean is the best racing venue in the world. Blessed with near constant trade winds and seas warm enough that when water splashes down your back it doesn’t make you scream, there is no better place to race. In this edition you will find our January – March Regatta Preview compiled by senior All At Sea writer Carol Bareuther, and it makes interesting reading. I can sum-up the preview in one word: Change. Driven by the demands of today’s competitors, these changes cover all aspects of regatta organization from all-singing, all-dancing websites to new courses, instant results, and massive use of social media to name but a few. Island governments are also getting in on the act and more are willing to offer financial support. Government funding does, however, have its dangers. Few politicians understand yacht racing or what it takes to organize a huge regatta and instead of being satisfied with how the event promotes their island abroad, some, on handing over the check, are shocked to find they will have little say in how things are run. This can cause problems as funding offered one year can just as easily be refused 12 months later, as some regattas have found to their detriment.

In a land far away, one of the most sophisticated long-distance race-boats ever to sail the seas lies broken on a reef. The yacht, Team Vestas Wind, taking part in the Volvo Ocean Race, was put there by human error. Reports say she was sailing at 18 knots when she struck Cargados Carajos Shoals in the Indian Ocean. The shoals are well charted and the yacht’s navigator had as many electronic navigation systems to play with as a modern frigate, so what happened? According to reports, the navigator failed to zoom in on his chart plotter and only scant details of the dangerous reef showed up on the screen. Paper charts, anyone?

When first I arrived in the Caribbean, I got into a fight with a coconut. It was on a beach in Dominica and the coconut won. I was born in the north of England where you don’t see many palm trees and the only time I saw a coconut was when I tried to win one at the annual fair. And, to my shame, I believed that’s what all coconuts looked like: Hairy brown things with eyes on one end.

My beach fight didn’t start with the coconut, it started with the tree. I tried to climb it. I’d seen a couple of local lads shimmy up the tree while watching through binoculars from the cockpit of my boat. It looked really easy. On my first attempt I was six-feet from the ground when my foot skidded and I slid down. My second attempt ended similarly at eight feet, and my third attempt at ten. By now, the tree was so slick with blood, I had to give up. Then my wife found a coconut at the water’s edge and brought it to me. I guess I must have upset her somehow. This nut had a shiny brown case and I set about opening it and immediately broke the blade off my favorite bosun’s knife. Incensed, I tore at it with my bare hands only to find it had more skins than an onion—fibrous, hairy skins that tore my fingernails and twisted my biceps out of my arms.

The following day, while limping along the beach like a walking billboard for Dettol and Band-Aids, I came across a pile of coconut husks around a sharpened stick driven into the sand and a young lad stripping nuts at a rate of one every few seconds.

I hobbled to the rum shop before I could cry.

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