Battling for luffing rights on the starting line, the Mother Tub division attracts the less-serious and first-time racers.
"Make it two weeks next year; we want to stay longer!" That plea was shouted out from the sunburned crowd gathered in Marsh Harbor in mid-July at the awards ceremony for the 25th annual Regatta Time in Abaco. After five races spread over nine days and miles of frighteningly clear, shallow water, the sailors wanted more time in this scenic Bahamian archipelago.
The low-key sailing seriesserious for some; friendly and casual for mosttakes the fleet island-hopping southward from Green Turtle Cay to Marsh Harbour, with party stopovers along the way in Guana Cay, Crossing Beach, and Hope Town. As one race official put it, "There's not a red flag in sight. Everyone is here to have fun." The race committee happily postponed the start on the final day of racinga courtesy postponement they called itwhen party-weary sailors arrived late en masse at the starting line near Man-O-War Cay.
Not that the competition in this annual event isn't intense at times, and often very close. The top four boats in the Spinnaker A division finished the series separated by less than four points this year. Hope Town native Jeff Gale, a frequent competitor at Key West Race Week, won this eight-boat class with a mixed crew of locals and Floridians by keeping his B-32 Abbey Normal fast in the predominantly light conditions. And after 12 miles of 'round-the-buoys racing in the Guana Cay Race, two seconds separated eventual series winner Balamena II and Blew J. The difference between first and second placethose two ticks of the clockultimately meant that the J/30 Blew J would finish fifth overall instead of third, while Bahamian Peter Christie's Hunter 35 Balamena II cruised to the Spinnaker B win by never finishing below fourth place in its nine-boat class.
The J/24 Red Sled goes head to head with the Morgan 27 O'no on a tight reaching leg.
Regatta Time in Abaco traditionally attracts a healthy fleet of Corsair trimarans and a mix of cruising cats. New to the event this year was a Jacksonville, FL-based Dakota 33 catamaran and the 57-foot Lagoon Windy III. Midway through the series, the multihull action was focused on a Corsair contest between Steve Marsh's F-31 and Robert Onsgard's F-27 with Onsgard holding a slim lead. Due to commitments back home, neither boat was able to stay for the final two races and Bob Harkrider's Augusta, GA-based F-31 Training Wheels took home the series award. "The key to this regatta," explained Harkrider afterward, "is you have to sail all five races. No home runs; just singles."
Harkrider had invited novice sailor Peter Jones of Augusta aboard Training Wheels for the delivery sail from Florida to the Abacos as well as the racing and the parties. The non-stop mixture of sea and sun, along with the nightly party scene, prompted Jones to close one of his journal entries with "sleep comes easy." According to his skipper, Jones had "never, never been on a sailboat before," which put things into perspective when the neophyte accidentally fell off the boat twice during one race while trying to help out. "He's all heart," said Harkrider.
The organizers of Regatta Time take a golf-handicap approach to rating what they call the "Mother Tub" entries in the event. In their system, ratings can be changed after each race depending on the previous results, a format that encourages true cruising boats to join the more traditional racers out on the racecourses, with the cruisers sailing shorter distances. More than half of the 52 boats entered in Regatta Time in Abaco 2000 competed in the Mother Tub divisions, with the broad mix of boats ranging from a small, single-handed Cape Dory and a pair of cat-rigged Nonsuch 30s to the larger 40-plus-foot Hunters and Morgans. The PHRF rating band for the fleet started at 105 and ranged upward to the Cape Dory's 267. Though no one was seen racing with their dinghies in tow, full biminis, shorthanded crews, and a ton of ground tackle were commonplace on board the Mother Tubbers.
Jeff Gale of Hope Town picks up the winner's trophy in the spinnaker class.
One competitor, John Lowe of Miami, has family roots in the Abacos, so he imported a group of stateside friends from Florida and Colorado to race Regatta Time in Abaco for the 10th time. We have four regular crew, and four were here just for their looks," said Lowe boasting about his co-ed team. His Santana 35 Xtreme finished second in Spinnaker B.
Reflecting on the appeal of this event, Lowe remarked, "The attraction of this regatta is all the new people each year, and every night you're in a new place with new friends." Nassau resident Oliver Liddell, who skippered his Beneteau 42 Further Folly to fourth overall in Spinnaker A, described the venue as "a little competition and a little fun. It's a particularly good venue for south Florida boats in the summer." No wonder they want this event to last longer.
The docks in Hope Town Harbor swell every summer with the arrival of the 50-plus Regatta Time fleet.
How to Get There
Roughly 170 miles due east of Palm Beach, FL, the Abacos make up the northernmost group of islands in the Bahamas.
The majority of boats competing at Regatta Time in The Abacos are either cruisers spending time in the region or racers from the east coast of Florida. For the Florida-based boats, the venue requires an overnight delivery trip across the Gulf Stream to Grand Bahama Island, then north and east across Little Bahama Bank to the northern string of Abaco Cays. Crew traveling by plane to join the boats can fly into Marsh Harbour or Treasure Cay, Abaco, from a number of Florida cities with the most frequent flights originating at Ft. Lauderdale or Miami. Round-trip airfares from Florida start at $200 and range up over $400, but not all carriers fly every day and the smaller planes are often overbooked. Sailors should plan to arrive at the Abaco airports more than an hour prior to departure or risk getting bumped to a later flight, which may or may not be on the same day. Passengers with connecting flights have priority.