For the first time in 67 years of existence

Published on April 28th, 2020

Exuma is a treasure of the Bahamas, consisting of over 365 islands, with the largest being Great Exuma, home to George Town which is the capital and largest town in the region. It is also there where past meets present as the traditional Bahamian sloop gather to compete in Elizabeth Harbour.

Rooted in the fishing trades, these colorful crafts of various sizes remain consistent through generations, all designed and built by Bahamians, all owned and skippered by Bahamians, with massive mains balanced by human ballast on pry boards. They are a sight!

This weekend would have been the hosting of the prestigious National Family Island Regatta for sloop sailing boats in picturesque Elizabeth Harbour, but with the Bahamas government shutting down the country and its borders, particularly with inter-island travel, the national committee was forced to cancel the event for the first time in its 67 years of existence.

Danny Strachan, who has served as the commodore for the regatta for almost 30 years, said it certainly wasn’t business as usual for the traditional gathering together of thousands of persons in Exuma for onshore and boating activities in the crystal clear blue waters in George Town.

“It was probably the most solemn week on the regatta calendar,” Strachan said. I don’t want to compare it to the solemn Easter holiday weekend, but that was exactly what it was. People were so disappointed.

“Many people had regatta syndrome, not just in our country, but also from around the world. They wanted to know why we didn’t just postpone it rather than cancel it and come back once the virus had passed and hosted it then.”

But Strachan said the planning and the logistics of putting on the event for a later date in the year would not have been feasible. So they have decided to cancel it for the first time and work towards preparing for next year.

“A lot of people were disappointed, including the 30-plus vendors who were looking forward to making some money to take care of their personal expenses and taking care of mortgages and school fees,” he said. “It had a tremendous economic impact on the island of Exuma.”

With more than 70 boats participating in the various classes of competition, Strachan said their committee had projected spending around $400,000 to host the regatta.

“I suspected that if the regatta was on, we would have had close to 80 boats because here in George Town, Buzzy Rolle had built three new boats for the E class, Andros had built three and there was also a new boat coming out of Black Point, Exuma.”

However, because of the tremendous influx of people to the island, Strachan said they could have easily raised more than $2 million for the various aspects in the community, including the air, sea and ground transportation, hotel accommodation and food.

“While he served as the commodore, Strachan said there were a number of persons who worked with him behind the scenes, as well as in the Ministry of Agriculture & Marine Resources, headed by Michael Pintard, along with the skippers and sailors, who all push to make the event a success.

“Collectively, we met and discussed in the national fight against the Covid-19, we decided to cancel this year’s event,” Strachan said. “Minister Pintard also supports our resolve to host this wonderful national event in April 2021, when, with God’s grace, we will have all begun the process of restoring our communities to our usual conviviality.”

The committee apologizes to the large number of racing sloop owners who have already spent many weeks and lots of money in getting their beautiful sloops ready for competition. This COVID-19 pandemic is simply too dangerous not to be awfully cautious.”

With the new date now set for April 20-25, 2021, Strachan said they are grateful to the many sponsors who have already pledged their sponsorship, so they are gearing up for what they promise to be bigger and better than the previous events held in the past.

Strachan, who resides in George Town, said the vendors were already stocking up their goods for the regatta, but once the government made the call to close down the country, they heeded the precautions and began embracing for Covid-19.

“Our people here are following the rules and doing the social distancing,” he said. “We’ve been dealing with the lock down pretty good. We’re just praying that it doesn’t come here because when we get back to normalcy and people start traveling again, we hope that this is one of the islands that they chose to come to.”

The former banker, however, said the rebounding of the Bahamas’ economy will depend largely on what happens in the United States, so the people should listen to the instructions given by Prime Minister Hubert Minnis and the health officials.

“The lock down is only for a period,” he stated. “So let’s follow the rules and hope that we come out of this safe. We don’t want to lose anymore of our brothers and sisters to this COVID-19.”

Once it’s safe to congregate again, Strachan said the island will be flooded with sailing activities as they ease the pain of those in distress now. He anticipates that the various settlements will certainly look forward to hosting their own homecoming celebrations as usual.

“In the meantime, we just want the people to keep hope alive that we will have a bigger and better regatta next year,” he promised. “We want them to know that tomorrow will be better than today.”

Source: The Tribune, Scuttlebutt

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