Adapted from Sporting Barbados Magazine - http://www.sportingbarbados.com/
Barbados has always been blessed with nearly ideal sailing conditions: warm clear water, strong steady breezes, and sheltered bays and beaches on the West Coast, making sailing a natural sport for Barbadians, and Barbados a great location for both local and visiting sailors and yachts.
Sailing has a long history in Barbados, stretching back to the days of clipper ships and trading schooners. Since those times sailors, both in Barbados and around the world, have turned to racing and cruising yachts, as well as dinghies, to enjoy being out on the water. Based on sheer numbers, sailing in Barbados peaked in the ‘70s and ‘80s when large fleets of Mirror dinghies, Sunfish, Kingfish and Fireballs raced among a Handicap Class of locally built keelboats and assorted other designs. The number of larger keelboats capable of racing not only in Barbados, but of travelling to regattas in the other islands, gradually increased from the mid ‘70s. Boats such as the locally designed and built Nefertiti, Bruggadung I and Countdown, together with Morning Mist, Angelique, Hard Seed, Sara, Morning Tide, Virgo, Immigrant, Jaystar, Bruggadung ll and Blazin became well known throughout the Caribbean.
At home in Barbados, racing was held every weekend from late December to July. Saturdays saw both dinghies and keelboats racing in the handicapped Round the Buoys Series in Carlisle Bay. Sundays then saw many of the larger keelboats racing out from Carlisle Bay to Shoal Bank, along the South Coast to Oistins and back to the finish in Carlisle Bay in the Offshore Series. A lively ‘After Race Party’ at the Barbados Yacht Club always followed!
Every year in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s the much anticipated Coach House Race was held on Boxing Day. Keelboats raced from Carlisle Bay up the West Coast to the finish off the Coach House, an English-style Pub in Paynes Bay. It is from this race that the annual Mount Gay Rum Regatta began in late December 1985. In the late ‘80s the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) made Barbados its finishing destination for its first two years, bringing large numbers of visiting yachts and sailors to our shores in late December and early January each year. Unfortunately, 1988 saw Jimmy Cornell, the founder of the event, moving the finish to St Lucia in search of better mooring facilities.
In the past twenty years and beyond, our sail training programs have produced a profusion of recreational and competitive sailors. In many cases, their primary love for the sport arises from being outside and on the water.
Starting in 1971, the Barbados Youth Yachting Training Association (BYYTA), headquartered at Brighton, taught large numbers of young Bajans in the versatile and enduring Mirror dinghy. With the closure of the Brighton facility in the mid '90s, the BYYTA joined the Barbados Yachting Association to form the Barbados Sailing Association (BSA). The BSA continued sail training out of the Barbados Yacht Club (BYC) using the recently acquired Topper single handed dinghy and the Echo 12 two-person dinghy. The Barbados Optimist Dinghy Association (BODA) was formed in 2001 using a fleet of Optimist dinghies to get the younger children into boats and out on the water. During this time, the BSA sail training program trained and supported a successful team of youth sailors who competed in many local, regional and international regattas. Declining numbers of volunteers and the rising costs of maintaining and replacing boats led to the basic training being taken over by a private company, LRN2Sail, with the BSA concentrating on race training and administration of the sport.
A number of sailors from this era of Barbadian sailing went on to represent their country at the international level, notably Olympians Howard Palmer, Bruce Bayley, Shane Atwell, Andrew Burke, Rodney Reader and Greg Douglas. Unfortunately, as in many other countries, the sport of sailing has slowly declined over the years. This downturn has been variously attributed to the rising cost of boats and equipment, competition from other sports and activities, and the decrease in leisure time for both adults and young people.
However, starting in 2006, the importation of the J/24, a strict one design 5-person keelboat, brought a resurgence of interest in competitive sailing to Barbados as well as to Grenada, St Lucia, Trinidad and St Vincent, with as many as 18 boats being present at regattas in Barbados, Grenada, St Lucia and Bequia. The high standard of sailing in the J/24 Class has produced teams Hawkeye, Maximum, Impulse and Esperanza who have represented Barbados very creditably at J/24 World Championships in the USA and Germany. This class remains very active today and is administered by the Barbados J/24 Club.
The revival of the Round Barbados Race in 2011 by the Barbados Cruising Club, in association with Barbados Tourism Management Inc. (BTMI) and Mount Gay Rum has brought some of the fastest sailing machines in the world to race in Barbados. The first organised race around Barbados was held on January 1st, 1936 when 5 trading schooners competed for 'bragging rights' and a small prize. The winner was Lou Kennedy's Sea Fox in a time of 10 hours and 20 minutes. We wonder what Lou Kennedy would make of Team Concise Ms Barbados’ current Absolute Multihull record time of 2 hours 37 minutes!
The Barbados Sailing Association has worked with the BTMI and the Barbados Yacht Club to raise the profile of sailing by hosting a number of successful World Championship events. This campaign began in 2009 with the International One Metre World Championships, which was then followed by the Fireball Worlds in 2010, the 505 Worlds in 2013, the GP14 Worlds in 2016 and the Seaview Classic Dinghy Championships also in 2016. Both BTMI and the BYC are continuing to promote Barbados as a sailing sport tourism destination and propose to host the OK Dinghy and Finn Masters World Championships in May and June of 2017.
To celebrate 50 years of sport in an independent Barbados, the Barbados Sailing Association worked closely with the Barbados Olympic Association to hold a day of dinghy racing on November 20th, 2016 as part of the Elite Independence Games. This event featured the best of Barbados racing sailors competing in Optimist, Topper Topaz, GP14, Sunfish and Laser Classes.
The Government of Barbados continues to improve facilities for both local and visiting boats. In the Inner Basin of the Careenage and in the Bridgetown Port, 600 ft of new dock space has been completed, with services including offices for Customs, Immigration and Port Health, as well as Washrooms, Showers, Laundry Facilities, Shore Power and Water Supply. Towards the end of 2016, these new facilities welcomed the boats taking part in Barbados 50, a special transatlantic rally which was held to commemorate 50 years since the independence of Barbados. After a symbolic start in London in late July 2016, the rally, organised by Cornell Sailing Events and sponsored by BTMI, called at various ports in Spain and Portugal on its way south to the Canary Islands and the Cape Verde Islands. The fleet then crossed the Atlantic to arrive in Barbados in time for the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Barbados.
Independence on November 30th, 2016. Barbados 50 was followed by the Atlantic Odyssey which made its debut arrival in Barbados in December 2015. The Odyssey left Teneriffe on November 19th, 2016. Jimmy Cornell also launched the Multi Transat in January 2016, a new transatlantic race aimed exclusively at production multihulls. Owners of catamarans and trimarans were able to race across the Atlantic to Barbados in a competitive event starting from Santa Cruz de Tenerife on November 12th, 2016, and finish in Barbados in time for the Independence celebrations.
Playing host to so many prestigious and successful sailing events, including four World Championships, over the past few years has certainly helped to raise the profile of Barbados internationally and efforts are underway locally to increase participation in sail training programs, as well as public awareness of the sport in general.