The Original Tale of a BVI Tradition
- August 9th, 2014
- in Yachting
The Great Festival Sloop Shootout and Heritage Regatta – The Original Tale
Photography by Geoff Brooks and WEYC
At the end of May 2004, I and my co-worker Al Frazer were returning from Jost Van Dyke with Moon Beam one of our traditional wooden sloops in tow behind the College’s 28ft Grady White.
We were bound for Paraquita Bay after having participated in the 29th running of Foxy’s Wooden Boat Regatta. As we made our leisurely course back, Al and I discussed how successful the weekend event had been and how it compared to the Sweet Hearts of the Caribbean Regatta we had also taken part in that past February.
These two regattas were the main venues that we used in those days to spread the word about our traditional wooden sloops and their central role in our cultural Heritage.
Although both were prestigious events which provided much needed publicity, they were not well attended by our local population. This posed a problem for Al and I since part of our mandate at the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College was to develop a programme in Maritime Heritage which would preserve the knowledge and importance of our local sloops and boat building traditions for the people of the Virgin Islands. This programme would involve both the Maritime Museum as a central depository of artefacts and information, and outreach to the community like the regatta we had just taken part in.
We continued to trade ideas back and forth as we sailed home and I believe it was during that long stretch between Soper’s Hole and Town, right in the area of Pockwood Pond that the light bulb came on. Why couldn’t we revive the local sloop races that used to be held at Festival every year?
They were a big tradition that died out in the sixties with the collapse of traditional boat building and had always been held on August Tuesday. It seemed the perfect answer to our problem and we could hold it in Road Harbour where everyone could see and enjoy.
There was only one problem – we only had two sloops and you can’t have a regatta with only two boats. It would have to be a race, but how could we make it popular? Then right off of Baugher’s Bay, light bulb number two came on. We would ask the Governor H.E. Thomas Macan and the Chief Minister the Honourable D. Orlando Smith to race against each other. Both were no strangers to sailing; the Governor had raced sailing boats most of his life and the Chief Minister’s mother and father came from the two largest families of shipwrights in the Territory.
The following day, we shared our idea with Dave Cooper, Commodore of the West End Yacht Club and Shaina Smith, President of the Virgin Islands Power Boat Association, who both jumped on board. We now had a partnership between these two organisations and the College. All that was left was to sell the idea to the Chief Minister (Premier) and the Governor.
They were both approached before the end of the week and happily, they both agreed to do it – we had barely three weeks left to pull it off.
Everyone worked hard and divided up tasks – Government Information Service came in to help and both the Chief Minister’s and the Governor’s offices lent a hand with the publicity and other details. Ports Authority was contacted and permission was granted to hold the race in the harbour without disrupting normal ferry service.
Virgin Islands Search and Rescue and the now called Virgin Islands Shipping Registry agreed to provide safety support vessels and the Royal BVI Marine Police brought their vessel as well. Competent crews were selected and as the big race day approached, the hype, hoopla and fanfare reached a fever pitch.
Finally, the big day arrived, welcoming a good sized crowd at the Road Town Jetty. The captains and crews got into their boats. Governor Macan’s crew was made up of John Shirley and Elvet Meyers, both former Olympic sailors. Chief Minister Smith sailed with Laurens Blok and Dwayne Smith, well-seasoned sloop sailors. There was still one last problem to overcome – the two boats were different sizes and therefore not evenly matched. It was decided to run two races with the crews changing boats after the first race. It would be the only way to make it fair. Since Youth Instructor was the larger of the two, Quinton Henley was added as an extra crew member and he stayed on board for both races.
The 1st annual Great Festival Sloop Shootout commenced at 10:22am on August Tuesday 2004 and was over by 12 noon. It proved to be a close and exciting pair of races and ended in a politically correct tie with each team winning one race. A short awards ceremony was held afterwards in the ferry terminal and then it was off to the Festival Horse Races for almost everyone.
The very next year, Chief Minister Smith won both races and established a trend that has continued until today. We have had three Governors and two different Premiers participate, or been represented and the Hon. D. Orlando Smith, true to his heritage has been the dominant force. Over the years, the College has acquired two more Sloops and some are showing up from the private sector as well which prompted us to expand the race to over four days with three races. It is now known as The Great Festival Sloop Shootout and Heritage Regatta.
This year will mark 60 years of Festival and 11 years of Sloop Shootouts. As the regatta continues to grow, we can only thank all of the people and organisations that have helped make it possible and to those who will continue to contribute in the future to promoting the knowledge and interest in our rich Maritime Heritage.