The Workboat Regatta, traditionally held in conjunction with the Grenada Sailing Festival, busted loose this year with its own showy weekend of sailing on Grand Anse beach. The races, held February 6th and 7th, were the main event, but backing them up was a beach party complete with ear-splitting reggae, steel pans, barbeque fueled clouds and drinks that spewed from stands like fountains.
Traditionally these open boats were used for fishing but the 32 that made their way from Carriacou, Petite Martinique and the communities of Gouyave, Sauteurs and Woburn were built for the sole purpose of winning. Some carry fully battened mains, a few have winches; small modern touches to ease the work of balancing speed and safety. To say that the boats are cranky is an understatement. The rails are frequently dipping in, driven down by sweeping mains and driving jibs.
Every crewman has a tough job; one drives, another works the mainsheet, someone tends the jib, all while jumping on and off the rail. Hiking out is a circus act of strength and contortion. One crew spends the race in the bilge bailing a steady source of water.
The races start from the beach, Le Mans style, with crew aboard except for one poor sucker on the beach. There is no gun, no countdown, just an announcer yelling "Go!" and they do. Boats shoot away and the last man standing has to run, wade and sometimes swim to reach his ride.
Races are by class, so as soon as one leaves, another crew sets up a commotion; dragging boats to the water, tightening rigs and loudly discussing strategy.
Saturday's conditions were nearly perfect; 15 steady knots with plenty of gusts to keep things interesting. The blasts, an asset to those who rode them out, were the demise of others who couldn't spill the wind and went down, fast. During each race, boats and crew bobbed in the water awaiting a tow from overworked rescue vessels.
At the end of one race, two boats were neck and neck. The announcer shouted the action and the crowd, half in the water, went crazy when a fluky puff knocked one over and down. It looked like one more DNF but since they sunk just over the line, they were still in the running to win.
Winning in this regatta is not accomplished by crossing the line first. That helps, but more importantly, one crew has to leap from the boat, run to the committee-sanctioned drink tent and knock back a beverage. One competitor, James (Lager) Brathwaite explained it all clearly, "Dis ain sail'n. Dis drink'n! I've seen it hoppen whey de boat finish firs but dey don win cuz de udder drinker fost'r." The requirement to drink a glass of straight rum was, thankfully, altered to allow room in the cup for Coke. Juniors drink straight Coke.
Sunday's winds were blowing wide open, making it even more difficult to stay afloat. Those who sailed slowly and with caution had the chance to win, simply because half the fleet went down.
It was also Grenada's Independence Day and with so many people packed on the beach it was hard to see the sand. There were numerous sanctioned activities including the crowd-pleasing bungee pulling, and then the final races were staged.
Using five identical boats built for and owned by the Grenada Sailing Association, teams were formed for the National Jr. Championship, the National Sr. Championship and the big one, the Champion of Champions. Each sailing community nominated their best to bring home the trophy and $1000 US prize money. Which boat they sailed in was determined by a draw.
Throughout the weekend, each race ignited the crowd but when those five boats hit the water for the final time it was pure pandemonium. Perfectly matched boat to boat, crew to crew they sailed tightly together twice around the buoys. Approaching the finish, Gouyave and Sauteurs were dead even until a fateful wind knocked one down. The Gouyave team crossed the line, jumped out and their boat was literally levitated up the beach to a place of honor. Above it the stage was set with a fleet of trophies that were handed out and received with enthusiastic Grenadian pride.
Jan Hein and her husband, artist Bruce Smith, divide their time between the Caribbean and the Pacific Northwest with a boat and a life at each end.