Soft Spot for Squibs
- February 28th, 2011
- in Yachting
A SOFT SPOT for Squibs
When it comes to promoting the sport, sailors are among the most generous and dedicated athletes I’ve ever encountered. The dedication of Alison Knights Bramble at BVI Watersports Centre and the generosity of BVI and UK sailors have made possible the inclusion of the Squib class—the original one-design racing class from 40 years ago—re-entering the BVI Spring Regatta this year.
While sitting in her office in Manuel Reef, shoeless and dressed in her standard attire of a faded t-shirt and shorts, Alison Knights Bramble told me that she’s “always had a soft spot for Squibs.” Mrs. Bramble previously owned one and raced it in the UK. “They’re still the most popular keelboat in England,” she said. “They appeal to 12-year olds and they appeal to 60-year olds.” The UK’s National Squib Owners Association website expands that scope, claiming Nationals competitors ranging in age from 12 to 85. The popularity of the boat, she said, comes from the fact that “they’re simpler” with a classic design “which acts like a big dinghy.” She added, “The people that sail them are top-end sailors. A lot of [the sailors] might be good club laser sailors that get out of lasers and into two-man keelboat. It’s a very manoeuvrable two-man boat—a spinnaker boat, and one-design which means that sailors are racing against each other instead of boat design.”
The original BVI Squibs, Alison said, were brought over from England by Olaf Nissen in the 1970s on a Tate & Lyle sugar ship. The fleet consisted of about twelve boats, four of which now make Manuel Reef their home. Lis Harley and El Richardson had two, as well as Roosevelt Smith, Gary Turpin and Peter and Barbara Bailey.
“What was left of the original fleet,” Alison explained, “was either lying underwater or close to underwater. A lot of them had been wrecked in various hurricanes. Over a period of a couple of years, we rescued three boats. One was literally on the bottom,” she continued, “that’s Faith, and that’s the only one that we know what number it was. We know that was Roosevelt Smith’s original boat.” After using it as a racing boat, Roosevelt Smith sold the boat to his brother who used it as a fishing boat in Nanny Cay, Alison told me. After several years, the boat remained neglected in Nanny Cay and eventually sank. “I knew it was there,” Alison said, so she spoke to the Mr. Smith's sister “and explained what I wanted to do with it”—to use is as a teaching and racing boat for the students at the BVI Watersports Centre—“and she said I could have it, so we pulled it out of the water and let it dry out.” The other two Squibs that she originally obtained, Hope and Charity, came from the Trellis Bay area.
Once she had the three hulls, Alison contacted the National Squib Owners Association in the UK and told them about the boats. “I said, ‘Look, I’ve got a bunch of wrecked hulls. Is there anybody over there that wants to donate some sails?’” Turns out, there were several people willing to help. “A guy called Dr David West picked up on this and got interested in the BVI Squib story, so I did a bunch of research for him, and he wrote a story about it on the website and then put at the bottom that we were looking for stuff, and then it snowballed,” she said. “David and Peter White who run White Marine, not too far away from where I come from in the UK, spent a racing season going around to all the regattas in the UK and collected stuff—a container full of stuff,” Alison said, her eyes sparkling. “I didn’t know any of them, and I still don’t know any of them. They just took this and ran with it” and filled a container with rudders, spinnakers, sails and booms. “Often when people give to sailing schools, it’s like ‘sailing school or dumpster,’ but in this case, I’m pulling sails out of bags, and they’re still crispy. They’ve still got that nice sound,” she said, rubbing her fingers together to indicate the crinkle of a fresh sail, “and there were little things inside. When the kids were unwrapping it, there was a tactical compass that was wrapped inside a mainsail, and they put in brand new sailing gloves for the kids. They really did go for it.” She reiterated the fact that none of the donors of the goodies had ever been to the BVI, but she commented how when she was unwrapping the items, “there were names and numbers on some of the sail bags, and there were a couple of people that donated stuff that I knew—that I used to sail with.”
In addition to the generosity of strangers, local BVI businesses pulled together to help restore the boats. “Eric and Sheryl [of E & S Yacht Maintenance in Nanny Cay] rebuilt the insides of two of the boats, and I did all the grunt work on the outside. Eldred Williams from BVI Painters did the painting and just charged me for the paint.” After the first three boats were restored and rigged, the boats were christened in January 2009 by Geoff Holt, disability sailing ambassador and dear friend of the BVI Watersports Centre.
The fourth boat, Grace, had once belonged to El Richardson of Richardson’s Rigging. She had at that time been named David “because she was wrecked and holed in Hurricane David,” Alison said. “El and Lis [Harley] got her, and they raced her for a bit, and then their boats went to Virgin Gorda, and that’s when they lost track of it. And then when Colin and I were first at the [Royal BVI] Yacht Club, that was my first realization that there were Squibs around. We bought the Squib and used it at the yacht club, naming her Pelican. The boat was hauled out and sat in a boatyard for years after Alison and Colin no longer worked with the Royal BVI Yacht Club. The boat then went back to Road Reef where it eventually sank and lay on its side, then relocated it to Sopers Hole where it began to sink again. “Then when we did the West End Yacht Club race in the middle of last year, in July, with the other three Squibs, then everybody in West End saw what we’d done with the other three boats and decided, ‘Well, you better take this one.’ Having just rebuilt three boats, I wasn’t exactly jumping at the chance. I went and had a look, and it was sinking, completely rotten inside. Just under two weeks before Hurricane Earl, I went and got it, and had she stayed there, she would’ve gone.
Grace survived Hurricane Earl on an anchor in Manuel Reef, even though she did sink in the process. Eldred from BVI Painters and Andy MacDonald from Caribbean Colours have donated both labour and paint for Grace, and they plan to use environmentally friendly ePaint on her. Eldred even persuaded Alison to have the deck painted in her favourite colour—pink. West End Yacht Club has agreed to sponsor the restoration of the inside, having the work done at Marine Consultants at Nanny Cay. Alison also mentioned the generosity of Kenneth Smith with his crane and Nanny Cay for providing yard services for the boats.
“The idea of that is to have our boys who are sailing them regularly either to race against or alongside some of the original crew” in the BVI Spring Regatta. “The regatta committee is going to issue a t rophy for the winning boat, so it’s not so much about individuals. It doesn’t matter if 15 people have sailed on that boat over three days…the trophy’s for the boat, so anybody who’s around at prizegiving who’s sailed on that boat can come up to the podium.” And if she has time, Alison hopes to have a chance to get out sailing on one of the boats that she, along with friends, acquaintances and strangers, has worked so hard to bring back to life in the BVI.