Anyone who imagines the Caribbean as a 'lazy' holiday hasn't raced a yacht in Grenada. The sailing parties are inviting, the scenery is vibrant, and the competition is fierce. With a fishing tournament and four regattas back to back between January and April, Grenada is the place to be for the first quarter of any year. The adrenaline starts in January when the Carriacou Yacht Club hosts the Carriacou Sailing Series and the Grenada Yacht Club hosts a popular anglers' competition called the Billfish Tournament. February offers the Grenada Sailing Festival and the Workboat Regatta, followed by the South Grenada Regatta. Then in April, Grenada will be hosting the prestigious Oyster Regatta.
The 2011 Budget Marine Spice Island Billfish Tournament had 52 entries and 94 billfish releases, averaging more than one catch per boat, and an increase in the number of boats in 2010.
Stiff competition could also be found at the Port Louis Grenada Sailing Festival in the Cruising 1 Class of the Racing Series this year. The downwind markers have been placed in deeper water, leading to longer and more tactical upwind competition. According to event organizers, the closest battle was fought out in the Cruising 1 Class between Grenada's Peter Evans with his Swan 48 Julia and Trinidad's Peter Morris in Jaguar, a Frers 43. Over the four days of the event these two skippers alternated winning positions, so that all rested on the final race of the Festival. Peter Morris and Jaguar took first place and the class in one of the closest ever finishes and went on to take the coveted 2011 Festival Winner title. You don't have to be a sailing fan to know that this is the kind of competition that makes racing great.
"The top quality racing yachts coming to Grenada to 'tune up' for the Caribbean regatta season are definitely on the increase, and skippers and crews are coming from more countries," says Sarah Baker, one of the Sailing Festival Organizers. Even though Grenada's racing is rapidly gaining international acclaim, it doesn't mean everyone else is left out. There are races for children at the Sailing Festival and the South Island Regatta. The South Island Regatta, hosted at Le Phare Bleu Marina and Boutique Resort, even boasts a pirate's trail that appeals to the imagination of children from all over the world. Grenadians come to one of the best sailing grandstands in the world: Grand Anse beach. They come by the hundreds to cheer on their workboat sailors and mix with the tourists in a truly multicultural event. For Grenadians however, the workboat races are an especially important aspect of Grenada's culture because they provide an opportunity for maritime villages to race against each other and, in a small country like Grenada, it means the races are as exciting as they are personal. This year, the winner's trophy went to Petit Martinique.
Grenada's economy benefits from a much needed boost when the regatta visitors arrive. Organizers of both events have reported an increase in participation, visitors and competitiveness consistent with the sustained growth of the marine and yachting sector in Grenada. According to Sailing Festival Organizer Sarah Baker, "It's not just how many boats register, it's the size of the crews that make a difference. This year, I noticed that the crew numbers were definitely bigger," she said, referring to the positive impact larger crews will have on the economy. Other, land based, events also benefit from the influx of yachting visitors, such as Independence Day on February 7th, and Carriacou's Carnival in February and Maroon Festival in April.
All around it seems Grenada's Regattas are a two-way love affair for the yachts and the people of a nation that has always lived by the sea.
Jennifer Ellard Alexis, a Canadian/Grenadian, is married to a yachtsman from Carriacou. She owns and operates Ethical Ideas Consulting Services in Grenada.