When I was visiting Bequia as part of a press trip a year or so ago, I took a walk along the Port Elizabeth waterfront and came upon a man fussing with his boat. We chatted for a while about boats and life; then he told me his crew was AWOL for the day’s racing, and he invited me to join him. I recognized this as the chance of a lifetime, but I was, first, overwhelmed by the size of the mainsail and its deck-sweeping boom (chicken, you might say) and, second, required to stick with the press group’s itinerary.
You too might luck into such an invitation, but I suspect it’s a rare event. Local-boat racing tends to be a spectator sport for most of us, and it’s a colorful one wherever it takes place. The islands that have a native-boat tradition also have serious rivalries within their fleets, and the design of these boats is unique to their place of origin and original (or continuing) use. Some regattas have local-boat divisions, so it’s easy to plan your spectating. You’ll notice that these events take place in the southern part of the Caribbean; a knowledgeable friend tells me (information supplied by Foxy) that there are only two Tortola Sloops left, one based out of St. John and the other in Foxy’s back yard on Jost Van Dyke.
At the Digicel Work Boat Regatta, one place is set aside for guest crew for finals and match racing on each of five 16-foot raceboats. Your $100 donation goes to a community sailing program that works with local groups in Grenada and on Carriacou and Petite Martinique. If you’re interested in this unique opportunity, contact the festival office at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 473-440-4809. Don’t despair if all the places are spoken for this year; the committee hopes to increase the size of the work boat event in 2010 and invite boats from other islands to join in, thus increasing the number of spaces.
Charter tip: Check company Web sites now for special deals in the Caribbean; with a little effort you’re likely to find reasonable airfares too.