eorge Town, Exuma - Every April during the last Thursday, Friday and Saturday, its ‘Regatta Time!’ at George Town, the provincial capital of the Exumas and Ragged Island, some 150 miles southeast of Nassau in the Commonwealth of the Bahamas.
Competing boats and rabid fans come from all over the Bahamas to celebrate the annual Family (or Out ) Island National Regatta from this old venue, incorporated in 1793 when George Town was one of the major contributors of fine cotton during the Loyalist years.
The three-day sailing event is held on beautiful Elizabeth Harbor. Some theories suggest that Columbus landed here since the large harbor fits the description by Columbus that on his first landfall he discovered a harbor that was huge enough to accommodate all the ships in all Christendom. This pristine body of water is five miles long and over a mile wide, offering a world class sailing course, edged by miles of white-sand beaches.
Since sailing is the Bahamas national sport, other regattas are held throughout the year on some of the other islands, but only the George Town Regatta is the sanctioned by the government as the official National Regatta. Hotels and private homes are booked from one year to the next with competing crews and fans in town to support their home island favorite. The always-pleasing Bahamian police band gives a musical marching demonstration to the delight of the massive crowds.
Dining is a feast, featuring a multitude of food shacks temporarily constructed by the local Exumian entrepreneurs offering fresh island conch, snapper and crawfish (spiny lobster) along with pea soup and dumpling, Stew fish (reported to be a good cure for a hangover), boiled fish and such. Plenty of local Kalik and Sands beer, rum and other spirits help one to relax after a tough day on the water.
The A boats, 28’ wooden sloops, are the largest in the competition. Usually, they number 13 to 20 depending on the year and vie for the main trophies and cash prizes. There are also B class and smaller C class that normally race in the mornings leaving the larger A’s to compete in the late afternoon to close out the day’s events. The Bahamian government and the regatta committee allocate funds to assist in transporting the boats to Exuma, to help maintain the crews while at the race.
Rules dictate that the boats be wooden constructed to strict specifications, based on the old time Bahamian island traders and work boats, and that they are owned, built and sailed by Bahamians. Another rule demands that the boat must finish the race with the same number of crewmen on board that started the race, thwarting the practice of excess crew reducing the weight by jumping into the sea on the last leg of a tight race.
There is dancing every single night at the popular landmark 32-room Club Peace and Plenty , ideally located on the harbor opposite the race start and finish line. Audley and his “Sweet Love” band keep the revelers on the floor until the wee hours of the morning. By the Saturday night awards ceremony, the crews and fans are at a fever pitch and much cheering and some jeering, accompany the presentation of the hardware and the cash prizes. But to many of the winners, the satisfaction of bragging rights and bringing the championship back to one’s home island is of more satisfaction.
By Sunday most of the visitors have gone and the shacks are being dismantled and stored until next year, when new winners will crow and new losers will lick their wounds! Regatta Time, mon! It’s a great sport!