There is only one day and one aim,to record the fastest time around the island of Barbados, for all participants in the Mount Gay Round Barbados Race Series.
The competition dates back to the 19th century and is based upon bragging rights for the fastest “Trading Schooner”. This was a prize worth its weight in gold to captains in an era where prices for cargo arriving ahead of rival ships commanded a massive premium. Whilst most boats sailed for the honour of the fastest time, the consolation prize of a barrel of Mount Gay Rum for the slowest certainly spurred on some captains, and had to be discontinued after two boats remained out at sea for days stalling to take the prize.
The first recorded race around Barbados was held on January 1st 1936 when On December 12th 1935, Mr. H.C. Boyce from the Office of the Central Foundry, Pier Head Lane placed a small notice in the Barbados Advocate inviting schooners trading in Barbados to enter the first Round The Island Schooner Race to be held on January 1st 1936.
Five trading schooners took up the challenge, Sea Fox, Mona Marie, Marion B Wolfe, Lucille Smith and Rhode Island. The conditions were sunny, with light winds as the five boats crossed the start off Pelican Island at 7 a.m. Rhode Island took an early lead, immediately setting her 5 sails, however Sea Fox and her Captain Lou Kennedy outsmarted the other boats, by setting 8 sails giving her a distinct advantage
On reaching South Point, the Sea Fox was a good mile ahead of second placed Rhode Island with another mile separating Rhode Island from third placed Lucille Smith. The Marion B Wolfe retired from the race at this point, Captain Leverock later commenting that his vessel "was not properly ballasted" and "had not been dry docked or cleaned for a year and needed re-coppering". He described racing his boat against the Sea Fox was “like racing a thoroughbred against a creole”.
When the first boat reached The Crane the result was considered a foregone conclusion with the Sea Fox far ahead of her rivals. However this did not dampen enthusiasm on shore for the spectators. The Advocate reports “Apart from motor cars flying hither and thither, every possible vantage point, every little hillock that offered a favourable glimpse of the race was crowded on Wednesday last. It was impossible from many of these lookouts to tell with any degree of certainty which vessel it was that was described in the distance, but this made absolutely no difference to the punsters. Each one was certain that the schooner to the front was none other than his favourite, and so everyone rejoice”
At 4.20 p.m. Sea Fox was level with Holetown off the West Coast, and was relieved to see her nearest rival, Rhode Island coming around North Point. Mr Whitmell, one of her crew stating “We were pleased to see that the others had not given up. We thought that they had packed up and gone home and left us alone to it”.
Sea Fox crossed the finish line at 5.20 p.m. giving her and Capt. Kennedy a winning time of 10 hours 20 minutes. The remaining three schooners finished the race in darkness. The final placings were: First, Sea Fox (Capt. Kennedy); second, Rhode Island (Capt. Hassell); third, Lucille Smith (Capt. Cobham) and fourth Mona Marie (Capt. Hassell).
When interviewed after the race Mr. H.C. Boyce commented; “I consider that the race was a very successful one, but I think our Nova Scotia vessels, being of a heavier build than the Sea Fox, needed more sails and in one or two instances lost ground in the tacks they took…. I am glad to see that schooner racing is to become a regular fixture, and I hope that later we will have other vessels from farther afield competing.”
The average distance for the yachts to sail during this race is 70 nautical miles. They will start at the Barbados Cruising Club and sail through the historic Carlisle Bay, pass the deep water harbour and then begin a 20 mile tight reach in calm water up the platinum coast of Barbados passing the homes and haunts of the very rich and very famous. After rounding the top of the island they will encounter the full force of the Atlantic with nothing between them and Africa. It is then a good 7 mile plus section in tricky currents, windshifts and big waves. This is followed with a 20 mile fetch, riding those same waves beam on, trying to maximize speed without losing height enough to clear East Point. There is only a small matter of 18 mile downwind stretch down the south coast and around the south west corner to the finish line.
This year marks the 78th anniversary of the races beginnings. So far there are 25 provisional entries with more expected to enter in the run up to the race. Each of the participating vessel will be equipped with a YB tracker. These will transmit several items of information including GPS position, speed and direction every fifteen minutes. For all left on shore in Barbados and anywhere else they can track their favourite individual or the whole fleet easily with the online fleet tracker.
On breaking any of the existing Round Barbados records, the record breaking yacht will be awarded Mount Gay Rum Extra Old equivalent to the weight of the registered skipper as recorded at the official skippers weighing. So most of them will be swapping the salads for something a little bit more substantial to maximise the payoff.
For more information on this historic race please visit the Mount Gay Round Barbados Race Series website