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The Most Wonderful Thing There is in the World – Anguilla’s Racing Sloops

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“We are going to win the race today by 15 minutes or more!” thus boasted Will Ian Carty of De Tree, one of Anguilla’s colourful, Class A racing sloops, just before the Anguilla Regatta Sir Bobby Velazquez Local Boat Race. 

Boat racing is a traditional on Anguilla and stirs up a lot of feeling.  The fishing boat was the direct ancestor of the modern racing sloop.  With customs duties high, smuggling was rife between Anguilla and local islands, particularly neighbouring St Martin.  Fishing boats had to be fast enough to cross the channel between the two islands, load up with contraband and return in one night, without being caught.  

The schooners taking Anguillians to the Dominican Republic to cut sugar cane in the early twentieth century would race home, against the trade winds, to Anguilla.  This was a tough twenty-day battle and all aboard would assist with weight distribution and tactics.  On land there was much excitement when the first boats were sighted.  These schooners have gone into legend with one, Warspite, being commemorated on the Eastern Caribbean ten dollar note.  

Thus the fast craft and the thrill of racing have combined in what we know today as the Anguillian Racing Sloop.  The Class A boats are 28 feet long with masts up to 40 feet high.  They carry no internal ballast, instead being weighted with 5,000 pounds of iron or sand bags, which can be jettisoned if necessary, along with crew members, during a race. 

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The wooden hull is covered in fibre glass and all follow a traditional design.  According to Colin Liddie, a boat builder for six years, Blue Bird, “took three to four weeks to build from nothing, including a lot of days and nights round the clock.”   Many of the boats have modified the chine because, as Curtis Richardson, Manager of De Stinger, explained, “We can get a better aerodynamic shape.” 

Anguilla’s racing is well established with many villages having racing boats.  There is much rivalry between boat crews and it is serious business. UFO, for example, has corporate sponsorship, a manager and a fan club. 

Paul Romney, owner of Sonic, explains why he is willing to pay, for example, $3500 for a sail. “It’s a pretty expensive sport but the crowd on the beach enjoy it and you pay for it. I guess it’s all the Anguillian blood from my parents; you continue the tradition.”
Timothy Webster, manager of UFO, winner of hundreds of races over the past ten years, trophy cabinets bulging, commented, “She is recognised as the fastest boat right now.”

De Tree’s owner, Ian Carty, known to “make a good boat,” according to Wilson Harrigan, long time UFO crewmember, would disagree.   De Tree, built in 1992 has also been remodelled in an effort to make her swifter.  The boat won six races in 2006, only one in 2007. 

The boast of Ian’s brother Will may seem like rhetoric but the vessel is well regarded and will offer a real challenge to the mighty UFO’s chances of winning the Champion of Champions trophy again this year.  Real Deal, captained by Alvin Richardson, is the dark horse that the other boats must also beware of.  She has had intensive remodelling over the past year and is now just on the upper size limit for the Class A boats.  Built in 1994, with a young crew, she was the surprise winner of the Sir Bobby Velazquez race, with De Tree second. 

Crewmember, Stanley Gumbs, summed up the feeling on Real Deal afterwards by saying, “It is the most wonderful thing there is in the world!”

British-born Penny Legg has a regular column ‘Thoughts of an Expat’ in The Anguillian, www.anguillian.com She writes for magazines and newspapers in the Caribbean, US and UK and takes photographs which accompany her work. 

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So Caribbean you can almost taste the rum...

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