Lost legend of the Bahamian sloops
Published on January 18th, 2019
The Bahamian sailing community lost one of the most iconic names of the sport when Eleazor Johnson died early on January 16. He was 79 years old.
Johnson, affectionately called “Barber J” or “The Sailing Barber”, was nationally renowned for his promotional and organizational prowess, aimed at the development of sloop sailing throughout the Bahamas.
Friends, family, and members of the local sailing community reflected on Johnson’s contributions to the sport.
“Our father was a mentor to so many,” Eleazor Johnson Jr said. “For me our earliest memories go way back to when he first took me sailing. His influence also got many of the young guys in the Grove into sailing in those days we called the Young Alliance, so he was always getting the younger people into the sport.”
Deon Johnson added: “It is tough but right now we are just reflecting on the days with our father, thinking of it all on the days we went sailing out on Montagu for years every Saturday.
We had a good time,” he said. “Between barbering and sailing he really had a legacy. We are going to try our best to keep it going and we would like for you and everyone else to help us in keeping it going.”
Stafford Armbrister, of the Bahamas Boat Owners and Sailors Association (BBOSA), said his relationship with Johnson began as competitors but he saw his true contributions at the administrative and promotional level.
“I got close with ‘Barber’ around 1986 through sailing. Over the years, working as executives with the BBOSA, I recognized his heart was really in sailing. He wanted to make sailing the number one sport in the Bahamas,” he said.
“He was very braggadocious and Lady Nathalie was the fastest boat in the world as far as he was concerned. Whenever he called me to organize the St Valentine’s Day Regatta, I considered it a privilege to do it. He was often the one that would help to drive me and keep me inspired.”
“Barber J” grew up in Acklins and began his foray into sloop sailing on “The Avenger.” He established his well-known barber shops in the Cordeaux Avenue and Fox Hill areas.
He will perhaps always be most closely associated with the Lady Nathalie and his signature event, the “Catch Me If You Can St Valentine’s Day Massacre” regatta.
The race started in 1987 as a challenge with his Lady Nathalie taking on some of the other boats in friendly competition on Sundays when there wasn’t anything to do from December to April in Montagu Bay and it then developed into a full blown ‘Catch Me If You Can Regatta.’ The regatta now moves into its 32nd edition and the Johnson sons look to carry on the tradition their father has established over the past three decades.
The family looks to celebrate the legacy at the Montagu foreshore February 16-17.
“He was a great promoter, a great organiser and his legacy will always be remembered in this sport of sloop sailing and throughout the Bahamas. As his sons we look to continue that legacy through this event,” Trevor Johnson said. “We are asking our brothers and sisters in the sailing community and indeed the entire Bahamas to come out and support this event.”
The family will celebrate “Barber J” on Friday, February 15 with a t-shirt day and invite as many people across the country to wear their “This One for Barber J” shirts. Shirts will be on sale at the aforementioned Johnson’s barber shops.
Rev Phillip McPhee said that while “Barber J’s family, friends and sailing enthusiasts feel he never truly got the recognition he deserves, his role in the development of the sport and increasing its national profile has been undeniable.
“He was different from any other promoter. He was distinct in how he did it, he mastered the art of attracting people. The family and friends will bring to their attention to the Government of the Bahamas that he is deserving and should have been given more recognition by now but we will look forward for the government to give Barber J the right kind of recognition he rightly deserves,” he said.
“We have lost a legend, one who has committed himself to the advancement of sloop sailing in our country. One who has turned sailing around through his promotion throughout the length and breadth of the Bahamas.
“Eleazor went to just about every island and had tremendous relationships with the fathers of sailing. His contribution is prominent in bringing sloop sailing to where it is today and we will celebrate his homegoing. This is a time to highlight the positiveness of his contributions and may his soul rest in peace.”