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Great Exuma Bahamas First Ever Regatta

By Fred Coolridge Published 10/19/2007 | Travel

In the year 1954, Great Exuma welcomed its very first Regatta. Although the race's first participants appeared to be amateurs, the rules were established, and the competitors proved their worthiness. Since then, the Regatta has become an annual event, and one of the island's most popular activities. It is now called The National Family Island Regatta.

The following three articles were written by Robert Keir who attended the onset of Great Exuma's first Regatta. His account of the island's first organized boating competition is detailed, and well-describes the weather conditions, the exciting atmosphere of that weekend, as well as the race, its participants and its winners. He comments on how this relatively small event has played an important role in placing Great Exuma on the world's list of sun and fun destinations. Today, the Regatta--open only to sailboats that are "designed, built, owned, skippered and crewed by Bahamians"--has evolved into one of The Bahamas' famous attractions.

March 26, 1954

George Town, Exuma - A snappy southeast wind at 15 miles, combined with a clear blue sky and a warm sun to make conditions inside Exuma Harbour ideal for the first Out Island Regatta which got under way here Friday afternoon.

However, the weather outside the harbour was not as favourable and had not been so for the past few days. In many instances native work boats and visiting yachts alike were forced to take shelter in the numerous inlets of the Exuma Cays.

Since early in the week, boats have been arriving at George Town. By noon, Friday, it was estimated there were between 80 and 100 boats of every description anchored in the harbour.

The original entry list showed that 67 boats had registered but, before noon, four more were added. Reports here that several others were en route but had been held up by heavy seas.

J. Linton Rigg, originator of the race and chairman of the committee, made the late announcement that the starting time had been extended an hour and the first race would be started at two o'clock. Despite this, some ships did not arrive in time to participate in the race.

A short time later, the committee changed the race course and the run was held inside the harbour instead of around Stocking Island as originally planned. This kept the smaller craft out of the rough waters of the open ocean.

At noon, a special meeting was held in the parade grounds where the race committee set forth the rules and the revised course. There was some dissension among the skippers over the rules. In light of this, it was decided to handicap the boats on the basis of eight seconds per mile, per keel footage.

The first race, over a four-mile triangular course, combined large and intermediate-class work boats. It commenced at 2 p.m., followed ten minutes later by the dinghy boat race. The latter course was a three-mile run inside the harbour. Saturday, the same courses were run twice again.

The winner in each event will be selected on a point system with ten for first, six for second, four for third and two for fourth.

First prize in each class is 100 pounds with 50 pounds for second, 25 pounds for third and 10 pounds for fourth. In addition, special prizes will be awarded in a variety of dinghy races.

March 27, 1954

George Town, Exuma - One of the last and most picturesque sailing fleets in the world today carried its competition from the fishing grounds to the race course in the first Out Island Regatta, held here over the weekend.

Most of the boats never before raced and confusion reigned supreme in all quarters as the first part of the race got off to a slow start Friday afternoon. The scramble of sloops, smacks and one patchwork-sailed schooner finally unwound and continued its colourful course over the 14-mile run.

While the bigger craft, divided into two classes, lumbered off into Exuma harbour. 30 smaller and speedier dinghies formed a breathtaking sight as they started their three-mile jaunt.

The shores and the Government Dock were lined with crowds of enthusiastic spectators. Out in the harbour, either following the fleet or anchored in full view of the races, were close to 40 visiting yachts.

Many of the visiting yachtsmen were astounded by the agility with which the natives handled their craft. While standard rules of racing were unknown, many contestants ran the course like seasoned veterans.

Copping first place in the larger class was the 22-foot sloop Marie, owned and sailed by Nathaniel Cooper from Staniel Cay, Exuma. Harley L. Fox's Edna K. from Salt Pond, Long Island, finished second, while third place went to Swan, owned by Nathan Bethel, of Williamstown, Little Exuma. Finishing fourth was Gold River, sailed by Sherwin Gray, also of Williamstown.

Alert, owned by I.D. McPhee. of Mangrove Bay. Andros, placed second in the overall race, but took first place in the intermediate group. She was followed by Ego, Hegron Moxey, Ragged Island; Kathrine L., Eustace Jacak Longley, Mangrove, and Airenas, Clarence Sands, Staniard Creek, Andros.

Following the first run Friday, the race committee worked well into the night to determine the winners. The handicaps for the large class were worked out by R.H. Symonette, M.H.A,, member of the committee. Others on the committee were J. Linton Rigg, chairman; Commissioner D.H. Burrows, Campen Heilner, Donald MacKinney, M.H.A., Ward Wheekock and Bud Mulloy.

March 27, 1954

George Town, Exuma - This tiny settlement of 330 has more than doubled its population over the weekend as yachtsmen and racing enthusiasts continued to arrive by air and sea for the first Out Island Regatta.

As the regatta got into full swing in Exuma Harbour, the townspeople made ready for the first visit His the Governor, the Earl of Ranfurly made here. The Governor and his party arrived Saturday morning aboard H.M.S. Cygnet after a tour of the southern Bahamas.

Lord Ranfurly was given a regal reception as he stepped ashore at Government Dock at noon. An inspection of the settlement followed after which the Governor watched the last major races in the regatta. In the evening, he made presentations to the regatta victors.

Prior to the ceremonies, the captains and their crews were treated to a free picnic supper in the parade grounds. Following the presentations, the gala festivities began with a big celebration and dance. A native calypso band which was to arrive from Bimini was unable to be present.

Among those who met the Governor were Donald McKinney, M.H.A., and R.H. Symonette, M.H.A.,Members for Exuma, J.Linton Rigg, chairman of the race committee, Commissioner D.H. Burrows of Exuma, and Bahamas Police Commissioner R.J. Verrall.

Special church services were held for all in attendance on Sunday morning.

Robert Keir - "This assignment was a highlight of a fascinating six-month stint in the Bahamas in 1954. Many, many memories remain with me, among them my brief visit to Exuma, a truly beautiful place on this planet."

Fred Coolridge is the content manager and author for the website Great Exuma, Bahamas - www.exumabahamas.org.