Adventures of s/v WILD HAIR


Our land life took on form, solidity, routine. We had mastery of a limited set of skills. We had habitual expectations of others and ourselves. Going sailing, we let go of our attachments to our roles, views, and rituals. We persist because we are growing in this shapeless and dynamic world.

Friday, June 25, 2010


Dave and I made a point to visit George Town during the National Family Island Regatta, April 20th through the 24th. Of the 18 regattas throughout the country, this is the most prestigious. Event sponsors engage school children in national contests to name the annual theme. Each year, the event honors an enterprising boat builder or captain that has contributed to the growth and development of this national sport. This year’s featured craftsman was also a sponger; he was the first in the world to discover a method for “planting” sponges by dividing mature creatures and rooting them on the sea bed with weights.

The regatta is comprised of three classes of boats. All boats are handmade in the tradition of Bahamian work boats. The vessels are beamy, gaff-rigged cat boats with old-fashioned canvas sails; keeping to historic traditions, high tech materials are prohibited.

The racecourse spans the harbor, so competing boats sail through anchorages, narrowly missing stationary cruising vessels in the process. Spectators chase racers in their dinghies and gather at the turns to cheer on favorites and watch collisions. Turns are demanding. As the boats swing round the markers, racers must avoid being knocked into the water by the flying boom, adjust sail trim, and shift ballast by sliding “hiking boards” across the beam and crawling out over the water on the opposite side. Often, spectators and their dinghies must scramble out of the way when the unexpected happens. When a collision results in a sinking, event organizers tow the submerged vessel out of the field, plowing the workboat across the harbor floor as they go. Safely out of the way, it is the responsibility of the race boat captain to figure out how to get their boat back to the surface.

None of the competitors wear life jackets.

During the Regatta, George Town itself is transformed into festival grounds. Shack permits are issued to entrepreneurs and the government dock becomes party central. Prior to the event, I asked a Bahamian construction worker how Bahamians could party all night and race their boats all day. His response, “Ah, that is both the advantage and the disadvantage, mon.”

The festivities attract visiting dignitaries. Reportedly, we saw the world’s “most photographed” model; she was a stunning half Bahamian and half Brazilian young lady with a body that put Barbie’s to shame. While I marveled that a woman’s butt could actually have that shape, men circled her like dim-witted dogs. Less provocatively, we shook the Prime Minister’s hand two nights in a row.

George Town is controversial among sailors. The busy social life driven by notoriously “type-A” Americans does run counter to a relaxed cruising lifestyle. The number of boaters causes many to run off in search of isolated anchorages. But, we visited George Town late in the season. I’m not sure our experience was typical. What Dave and I found was an abundance of friendly people, services, and adventurous fun. I heartily recommend a late-season visit to all.

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