I’m baaaaaaaaack. I couldn’t be happier to be back in Exuma and clearly I can’t get enough of this place. In 2013, I fell in love with these islands even after the disastrous weather I experienced for 9 days straight. I gave it another chance and damn am I glad I did. This is now my fourth trip to Exuma (my last trip was almost a month in duration) and I’m fortunate to say I have some great friends here now. Each visit it gets better and better. Like a good bottle of wine. But I don’t drink wine so I shouldn’t use that analogy. Anyhow, I’m looking forward to soaking up new sights and new adventures and will share as much information about them here as possible. I planned this trip around the National Family Island Regatta, the largest event in Exuma. Large is relative. I know nothing about sailing so I thought I would come with an open mind and an open liver and see what all the fuss is about.
I’ve been here for a day and a half but it feels like it’s been a week. I’ve checked the “new adventure” block a few times already and bumped into several of my old buddies from the last trip. Rather than bore you with the minutiae of my days, I’ll simply highlight what has already been an amazing time.
Rosemary’s cottage was booked by someone else so I had to stay at Minns Cottages which is owned by her family and just at the bottom of the road from her home. So the location was all too familiar and exactly what I needed.
I could immediately feel the town buzzing as I arrived. Regatta signs hang on every business, flags are raised, cars are parked in every nook and cranny of town, shacks are built, and both locals and visitors are fluttering around the event site. So here’s what I now know, or think I know, about the event. This is the 63rd Annual National Family Island Regatta. The boats in the race are handmade wooden sloops, some several decades old, and come from all over the Bahamian islands. Throughout the day, the boats race against others in their “class”, which are dictated by the size of the boat and crew. Buoys are placed at various locations in Elizabeth Harbour and the crew has to navigate from one to the other and then back again, sometimes multiple times. However, sailing from point A to point B is easier said than done, particularly if there is a crosswind and it’s not in the direction you need to sail. In that case, you have to zigzag to the buoy. There are no motors on these boats. Not even a trolling motor. So they are often towed out to the starting line. It’s not uncommon that they crash into each other or in some cases capsize. But, not a problem because a boat with a crane can just retrieve it from the bottom of the harbour and it’s back in the next race. Fascinating!
As I walked to the center of the event in downtown Georgetown, I immediately noticed all of the temporary shacks built along the road to the government dock. In the preceding weeks of the race, vendors from all over the islands bring their tools, equipment, materials, food, and booze and set up shop all along the road to the government dock. It becomes the center of the regatta party, both day and night. A DJ blasts island music that I can hear at my cottage a half a mile away but it adds the perfect element to the electric environment.
We watched the regatta from some bleachers along the same road and watched as the other spectators, primarily crew members from other boats, cheered and hollered for their favorite. It was so interesting to watch. Many wore their team shirts and huddled together intensely and nervously waiting to hear the cannon blast signifying a winner. If I knew what they were saying, I would have a lot more to describe but my Bahamian dialect isn’t fully developed yet. I felt like a Brit watching a superbowl game for the first time. Absolutely no clue what was going on, but it was still exciting to watch. Elizabeth Harbour was teeming with boats, both sailboats and motorboats, or what we called chase boats with other spectators and family members cheering them on. Dozens of other sailboats still remain in the harbour for the season. More than I’ve ever seen in any of my trips here. Just beautiful. I’m looking forward to learning about what the hell I’m watching so I can follow along but doing so from the shore is quite difficult. At times, sailboats are sailing in all different directions and you can’t tell who is leading or who is falling behind. So I just sit in silence and pretend like I know what’s going on.
Club Peace and Plenty is right next to the government dock so we headed there to watch the last race as it’s a great spot to relax and watch the events in the harbour. Friend spotting #1 occurred when Catherine (from Exuma Foundation) and her boyfriend Robert walked in. So awesome to see them and hope I can catch up with them before I leave. You don’t even have to coordinate to meet with someone here. It’s inevitable you will see them somewhere in town.
Food was necessary at this point or we would be a slobbering mess so we decided on the Fish Fry, Big 12 to be exact, and stuffed our faces and bumped into AJ, the water taxi driver. It’s a small, small island. 🙂 Tamara and Dallas, from Out Island Explorers, offered us to jump on their boat for the Class A race tomorrow so that will be bad ass. I’m pumped to have the opportunity to get so close to the boats in the race and watch them in action. Cheers to new adventures!