Tobago Sail Week
Like many of the islands of the Caribbean, Tobago has changed hands numerous times in her long history, and no wonder! She is a jewel of an island, and over the centuries she has been highly prized and fought over. Tobago has hosted the French, Spanish, Dutch, British, and even some Latvians in its tapestried past. This makes for a very rich and diverse culture which is echoed in the faces and
place names found on the island.
I had the luck to visit Tobago for the annual Angostura Tobago Sail Week which takes place in mid-May. The regatta attracted 48 yachts and a medley of crew and race enthusiasts from all over the world. Indeed, each of the island’s former rulers was represented. I must admit I had difficulty putting my hand on a Latvian, though I did meet the lovely, blonde, long-legged Annica who hailed from nearby Sweden.
It was really quite a ‘jet set’ crowd. The yachts moored up in Store Bay were a jamboree of foreign flags, making the regatta international and interesting as well as highly competitive. When you come so far south for a regatta, it makes you all the more determined to win!
There were Pump It and Grind it from Guadaloupe; a posse of 5 racing boats from Barbados; a couple of yachts from the Shetland Isles in Scotland, as well as the usual tribe of ‘Trinis’ not to mention sailors from near and wide who come to race on the charter yachts.
At the prize giving dinner, a delegation from Newfoundland honoured the Trinidad and Tobago Sailing Association with the presentation of their club Burgee – a touching goodwill gesture. The organisers say that Angostura Tobago Regatta is ‘Where friends Meet” and how true it is!
The Racing Class was peppered with some big names like Storm and Enzyme, as well as Wayward (Cruiser Racer Class), which were fresh from victory at Antigua Sailing Week. There were also yachts competing in Cruising, Charter and even a Comfort Cruising Class
for those who wanted to bake bread while beating to windward. It is a regatta that caters to all, with a prize giving every day. Despite the fact that there were at least 6 catamarans in the bay, none of these yachts enrolled to race, which is a shame because I know the organisers would gladly include a multihull class if they were asked. There is such an abundant fleet of cats (both cruising and charter) in the Caribbean it would be great to see them sporting their style.
The Angostura Tobago Sail Week kicks off with a skippers’ briefing on Sunday followed by two race days and the most welcome Lay Day on Wednesday. This took place on an idyllic white sand spit jutting out between lagoon and reef. Fun and games were organised and delicious local dishes served up under the palm trees. Races on Thursday and Friday were followed by the prize giving dinner on Friday night leaving the weekend free either to discover Tobago or raise the sails for home. It is the perfect blend of sport and social, with the regatta headquarters at Crown Point Hotel where everyone meets after the racing to enjoy cold Carib beers and Angostura rum on
ice. As they say in the Caribbean ‘it’s a real sweet lime’ set jumping by the sounds of Soca, Calypso and Samba.
The weather also treated us well. We had been warned that rainy season had come early, but in fact the skies cleared for us and we had blazing sunshine for most of week with moderate winds up to 15 knots on the first few days. When the squalls hit on Thursday, bringing 25-knot gusts, we were happy for the breeze and a bit of cloud cover on the rail. From offshore, the island looked resplendent and green after the showers, so no one was complaining.
There were a few incidents which kept the committee and judges busy – a number of hotly contested protests, a T-boning and Enzyme losing her carbon fibre mast on the last day as they vied for first place.
Sadly Sean Berkley, the mark layer for the regatta who was better know as ‘Barnacle’, died in a car accident during the regatta which made everyone pause for thought in the midst of the festivities. The race went on and his widow came out to sea to watch all the fleet go
head-to-wind in memory of Sean and his contribution to the regatta. The last anchor he dropped will be placed on his tombstone as a tribute to his love for the sea.
The regatta committee also commemorated Dougie Myers, skipper of Legacy who passed away last June by commencing the regatta with a moment’s silence and naming a mark ‘IFD’ which stands for “I Follow Dougie” – a saying that became common in the Caribbean sailing community because Legacy was always the yacht out in front of the fleet.
Angostura Tobago Sail Week is not only a place where sailors gather to enjoy hot competition and serious sailing, but also to participate in a celebration of camaraderie that is so special in the sailing fraternity. For many, it is like a second family who all share in the
ups and downs, the victories and the losses, year after year; and where visitors are always welcomed with open arms, a nice cold one on ice, and a tale or two. I am sure if you ever have the pleasure of making it to Tobago for Sail week you too will come away with a rich and rewarding experience. So much more then just a regatta!