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Two New Sloops for The College’s Fleet

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Though not really a history tale this time, we are pleased to celebrate a present day event with regard to our traditional seafaring culture, the Virgin Islands sloops…

The H. Lavity Stoutt Community College through its Virgin Island Studies Institute and the Maritime Museum has—by the kind donation of two private individuals—recently acquired two traditional sloops to add to their growing fleet of locally designed boats.

The most recent addition is a half-finished hull which was traditionally constructed in Anegada by local shipwright Watson White. She was the result of a UNESCO funded project which had Mr. White teaching traditional wooden boat building skills to several local youths.

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The project began about seven years ago and lasted about a year until the limited funding ran out.  Although successful in teaching skills to young men which would otherwise been lost, it left a half finished hull under a shed in Anegada. Over the years, a hurricane blew the roof off the shed and Mr. White sold most of his property to what has now become the Anegada Beach Club, an upscale and green resort.

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With the threat of termites invading the frame, it was time to make a move or lose any hope of finishing the sloop. The problem as with most endeavours came down to money, or lack of it. Funding at the College has been cut over the last few years and there just wasn’t enough in the Maritime Museum budget to take on a project like this.

The museum and Virgin Islands Studies Institute has come to rely more and more on help from the private sector to achieve their goals in the preservation of Virgin Islands culture; this time help came from a long-time supporter, VP Bank.

VP Bank has in the past helped fund the publishing of Building a Virgin Islands Sloop, a book I authored as a primary school tool to educate the young about traditional wooden sloop construction. They purchased Intrepid, a traditional wooden sloop discovered in St. Croix and donated her to the College. They also sponsor ‘The Tortola Sloop Spring Challenge,’ an annual traditional sloop race which is part of the BVI Spring Regatta.

Sjoerd Koster President of the Bank has not been satisfied to just fund these events, but has recently enjoyed racing as crew on the sloops and is learning the skills of traditional Island sloop sailing. It was during a recent conversation that he shared his desire to bring more sloops into the fold and increase the size of our fleet.

I told him about Watson’s unfinished sloop in Anegada and he did not hesitate to jump on board.  Sjoerd immediately provided funds to transport the boat to Tortola and has since been securing the needed capital to finish the project and put her in the water.

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Watson White had already given us his blessing, so on Thursday June 18, 2015, Dr Angel Smith, Director of the Virgin Islands Studies Institute and myself travelled to Anegada and with the kind help of Mike Riegels and the crew at the Anegada Beach Club, we loaded the hull onto a trailer and she was transported to Tortola on the barge Isabelle courtesy of Sylvia Faulkner and crew.

She is now located at the College’s centre for Applied Marine Studies where work should commence soon. The only missing piece is what to name her.

The second new arrival to our fleet is the sleek and beautiful hybrid sloop Esmie which was designed, built, and most generously donated to the College by local businessman Mr. Leando Nibbs. Mr. Nibbs grew up working on and around traditional sloops and it has been a long held dream of his to build one himself. This he accomplished over the last three years.

He first built her hull at his home in Horse Path and she made her public debut in the August Monday Emancipation Celebration Parade two years ago in Road Town. Last year, she was fitted out and barely made the start of the August Tuesday Great Festival Sloop Shootout between the Governor and the Premier. It was actually her first time sailing and although she gave a good account of herself, the Premier won first place.

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This year, Mr. Nibbs officially signed ownership of Esmie over to the College in a ceremony held during the Tortola Sloop Spring Challenge, an event in which she swept first place by overpowering her competition.

Esmie is proving to be a very fast sloop; she is the largest of our fleet at 29ft and is what we are calling a hybrid sloop. She is traditional in design and proportion of rig, constructed of wood, but covered in fiberglass. Her mast and boom are aluminium and this ‘hybrid’ nature is found in Anguilla racing sloops.

Esmie needs a lot of ballast and a large crew to compete successfully, but she is a true thoroughbred when well-handled. She even looks fast when just sitting at the dock.

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The next big race for her will be this month’s August Festival races.

In conclusion, let me say that I am very heartened by the support our programme in preserving the Maritime Heritage of the Virgin Islands is receiving from both local businesses and private individuals within the community; I hope it will continue long into the future. The example being set by the dedication and generosity of VP Bank and local entrepreneurs like Mr. Leando Nibbs is ensuring the salvation of our local culture for future generations of Virgin Islanders.

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Geoff Brooks, Curator - Virgin Islands Maritime Museum

Geoff Brooks, Curator - Virgin Islands Maritime Museum

Geoffrey is the curator of the Virgin Islands Maritime Museum. He pioneers and takes part in many of the initiatives related to the traditional art of sloop building.
Geoff Brooks, Curator - Virgin Islands Maritime Museum

Latest posts by Geoff Brooks, Curator - Virgin Islands Maritime Museum (see all)

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