In the 1950s and 60s when there was a labor shortage in the Dominican Republic, men from Anguilla sailed there to cut cane. When their work ended, the Anguillan sloops would race back home. On the shores of Sandy Ground women, friends and family would cheer from the shore as the first boat arrived.
So began the island’s love for a sailing race. Today, communities sponsor boats, creating a healthy competition among the villages. Anguilla celebrated their annual August Regatta back to back with its 2009 Summer Carnival July 29 to August 9.
The August races featured 13 Class A boats, all 27 feet in length. There were 11 Class B boats, 23 feet in length. One boat from St. Maarten, Perfect Timing, was sailing in the Class B races. Each boat has 11 to 18 crew members on board.
David Hodge from South Hill is the boat builder for two Class A boats, Miss Anguilla and Sonic. Hodge states it takes eight to 10 weeks to craft and finish a boat. The cost is about US$28,000, mostly funded by members of each village. Hodge was confident his boats would prevail in the races; he said, “I made these two boats, so know they can win. It’s up to the captain now.”
August Monday’s race was plagued with some boat carnage. The race starting out of Sandy Ground went out into open sea past the island as winds were gusting, sometimes up to 18 knots. UFO and Real Deal both broke their masts, creating great setbacks for each team. Sonic won that race with a long lead. The after-party was quite the scene on Sandy Ground, lasting well into the early morning hours.
On August Tuesday, the Island Harbour Race met 14 foot seas near Shoal Bay East. During the race, De Shan tragically sank during an accident, dashing their hopes for a win. De Tree took the lead, winning the day’s race.
August Thursday’s race was the most anticipated. The boats met at Meads Bay and sailed into open sea. Winds averaged 14 knots and seas were flat, making for perfect race conditions. As the boats came close to the finish near the spectator-lined beach it was a close race. Tactical strategy brought Bluebird in first, then De Tree, and finally Sonic.
Rawles Hazell, the ballast on Bluebird said, “We had stiff competition, but our captain Devon Daniel brought us to victory.” Daniel is the grandson of Egbert Connor, one of the first boat builders on island. Bluebird is from South Hill and has seven crew members under the age of 16 years.
During the Thursday race, De Tree was disqualified because they did not honor a “Hard Lee” call from Sonic, and Miss Anguilla moved up to third place. In the Class B races Thursday, Legal Rights from Island Harbour broke their tiller. Derni Gomes, the captain, was exhausted from the races but proud of his team. “We worked hard and will keep trying to come up on top,” he said.
The Boat of the Year for 2009 was Sonic. Crew member Bryan Richardson was confident beforehand that his team could outlast the rest and prevail: “We have been training hard and are ready to win the races. There are some good boats here but we hope to win.” Sonic went on to place in the top three for each August race and earned their well deserved title of Boat of the Year, based on points earned the entire sailing season from March to August.
Racing came to a close and Carnival winded down after a week of music, sailing and celebration. The local pride in Anguilla’s sailing culture is strong and filled with competition, determination and honor. This sailing community embraces a multigenerational sport that brings the entire island—sons, fathers and grandfathers—together to celebrate their passion, the sea.
Ann Phelan, owner of Caribbean Wind & Sun Vacations, specializes in Caribbean dive and windsurf vacations. [email protected]