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Strong Winds Reigned at Grenada Sailing Festival

Wind and excitement peak at back-to-back regattas

Sailors got a one-two punch at the recent Grenada Sailing Festival Camper & Nicholsons Racing Series 2012. Strong winds reigned over both weekends, providing dynamic conditions and excitement for the 19th annual event.

Originally the regattas were held simultaneously. But three years ago organizers decided to split them into separate events – the Grenada Sailing Festival and the Scotiabank Workboat Regatta – to better do justice to each, according to Event Manager Sarah Baker. Calling the Sailing Festival “a little gem which is possibly still too much of a secret,” that event brought 25 entries to Port Louis Marina for four days of competition.

Races began off Grand Anse Beach outside St. Georges, and followed a course that boomeranged around Pt. Salines to Prickly Point. The strong breeze and huge swell were magnified at the confluence of the seas, producing conditions so wet, wild and exhilarating; the usually lively crews were dragging their heels by the end of day three. Fortunately they rallied for a final spectacular day of racing, and equally vigorous dance party.

Trinidad’s Peake Yacht Service’s Slippery had taken an early lead in the Racing division but slid into second as Antigua’s James Dobbs, with Lost Horizon, pulled off four bullets to trophy in that class. In Cruising One, returning champion Peter Morris, from Trinidad, took honors on Jaguar; local sailor Robbie Yearwood in Die Hard triumphed in Cruising Two. The different nations were represented in a hodgepodge of competing vessels: speedy J-boats racing alongside stout Beneteaus and Swans, some sporting filmy carbon fiber sails while others were plastered with solar panels. But the event was lauded for warm hospitality and smooth management, in particular Race Officer James Benoit and team.

The following weekend could not have been more of a contrast, as the brilliantly-painted workboats turned Grand Anse Beach into a spectacle for all the senses. Colorful boats lined the beach – their sails whipping in the breeze. Barbecues sizzled and music blared as Grenadians flaunted their national colors of green, red and gold, in preparation for Independence Day.

Sailing has long been a necessity and way of life in the tri-island nation of Grenada. Functional and small (less than 20ft), their workboats are based on designs that, in some cases, are still sketched in the sand and built right on the beach. Heavy, with open hulls, they are tippy. But the workboat tradition has continued strong and become a greater source of passion and pride over time, as the tiny communities produce vessels and enthusiastic teams to compete for cash prizes and bragging rights in the annual regatta.

Case in point: the south coast town of Woburn brought three brand new, specially built boats to the regatta. “I’ve been racing for a lot of years now, but this is my first time in first place for Woburn,” beamed Trouble skipper Alan Noel, after a successful Day One. “I’m very happy; we’ve got to keep it going.” (Trouble went on to win first in division.)

The workboat races begin with a Le Mans start. First the crews drag their heavy wooden craft across the beach into the water, load the hull with sacks of rocks for ballast, and affix the rudder – all while battling the surf. At the gun the skippers run out to the boats, scramble aboard to join their crew, and they’re off.

The single rule of racing, Baker announces: “Don’t bumps your boat!”

This year’s event was particularly challenging, with wind gusting well into the 20s. “The wind was really bad, we had a lot of swampings,” added Baker. “Boats were going down left, right and center.” Some were more tender – or sailed more aggressively than others, but by the time they reached the weather mark everyone was bailing.

After the finals the event wrapped up with a fireworks display to celebrate Grenada’s Independence two days hence. The Workboat Regatta brought in a record number of spectators in addition to participants this year. Baker said she hoped the Sailing Festival would follow suit.

For complete details and results, visit: www.grenadasailingfestival.com

A mild-mannered yachting journalist from California, Betsy Crowfoot discovered her inner Spice Girl in Grenada. She is eager to return.

 

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