Small, but perfectly formed

A report from Grenada Sailing Festival with photos by Onne van der Wal

Tuesday March 3rd 2009, Author: Suma Maffei Plowden, Location: United Kingdom
Way down the Caribbean island chain…way, way down (100 miles north of Venezuela) lies Grenada. Some sailors think this far ‘down island’ is a bit too far - though a good number of sailors are onto the island's charm and found their way south this year. Around 300 competitors were on hand for the 16th edition of the Port Louis Grenada Sailing Festival, a unique event that attracts racing and cruising sailors, as well as the local workboat community fleets.

The race committee team delivered top-notch racing for the 35 boats competing in Racing, Cruising and Charter divisions. The 'modern' yacht racing portion consisted of a mix of windward/leeward, ocean triangles and a pursuit race. Courses were set in the flat waters on the islands’ leeward side off Grand Anse Beach, as well as off the southern coast, exposed to the full brunt of the trade winds and big ocean swells. There conditions were lively and the breeze fluctuated from 22-30+ knots in the squalls that continually swept down the coast.

While the fleet is predominantly from the Caribbean - Grenada, Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados, Antigua - but competitors also came from Austria, UK, Canada, US, and the Netherlands. Many of the boats were based at Peter de Savary’s newly opened mega-yacht resort and marina at Port Louis near the port of St. George’s.

The Racing class was won by James Dobbs (ANT), on the J/122 Lost Horizon. Lost Horizon is a regular on the Caribbean regattas circuit, including Culebra, St Thomas (winning class at the International Rolex Regatta last year), BVI and Antigua. Dobbs and his partner Nicki have made lots of friends in their travels and have no trouble rounding up crew for racing. Which made Lost Horizon’s string of bullets - six out of eight races - even more impressive.

Clearly, a key part of this four-day event is the workboat regatta. These 16-18ft locally built, sprit-rigged boats are indigenous to Grenada (which includes the nearby islands of Carriacou and Petit Martinique). This event attracts local sailors island-wide as it culminates in a “champion of champions” race for the title, a winning payday of US$1000 and - just as importantly - the bragging rights attached.

The colorful fleet was a vibrant sight lined up on an impossibly white sand beach with turquoise-blue water lapping ashore. The racing starts were 'lemans style': a crew member from each boat starts behind a line in the sand and at the whistle runs to the boat, pushes off and jumps onboard. After sailing a modified triangle course, the boats sail a final leg to the beach for the finish, where a crew member had to jump in and run ashore to a table where he drank a shot of rum or coke, depending on age and inclination, for the finish. The racing was close and competitive. Over the years, the crews have come to have a working knowledge of the racing rules - well, the basic ones anyway.

The event is well run and fun, with parties at different venues each night. And you have to love a regatta that offers up prizes such as a $1000 British Airways ticket and a brand-new dinghy outboard!

Grenada Sailing Festival has been slowly growing over the years as competitors’ word of mouth attracts new participants. The event is now part of the SoCa (Southern Caribbean) Regatta Circuit that includes the Carricou Regatta in early January and the Tobago Carnival Regatta in mid-February, giving sailors two more reasons to head down-island. The super-friendly and stunning island of Grenada is well worth the trip.

See the rest of Onne van der Wal's photo gallery from Grenada Sailng Festival on the following pages....

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