Well race fans, today's your lucky day! I managed to get Bonnie out of Author Retirement to write a story. Well, ok, she really wrote it for Spinsheet Magazine, but it's reprinted here WITH permission so you don't have to read another of MY boring stories! ENJOY!

Racing in Fantasy Land

by Bonnie Schloss

Regatta Time in Abaco is a race week like no other race week I've ever done. To start with when I told my friends I was going to the Abacos most of them said, "Where?" Well, the Abacos are the Northern part of the Bahamas. You go south from here (Annapolis) until you hit Ft. Lauderdale and take a sharp left. Then you fly 170 miles due east and when you smell the rum you come down. And if you are very lucky you will not be flying Air Sunshine like I did, which has a tendency to overbook. And to compensate it tells their passengers that some of them weigh too much and so everyone has to leave all or part of their luggage. (I'm not making this up.) So bickering about who will leave which luggage takes an hour, and all nine of us finally take off in the Cessna 402, with me sitting in the Co-pilot's seat and noticing that my seat belt is held together with a tie wrap. Fortunately we make it to Treasure Cay, which is on Great Abaco Island. Unfortunately by the time we get off the plane with whatever luggage of ours is left, it is 5pm and the last ferry to Green Turtle Cay has left. Green Turtle Cay is of course where I need to be.
I got lucky and got a ride from a "local" with a little powerboat and I got to the boat I was staying on before my friend Steffi had successfully called out the marines. But I had finally arrived so I got myself settled and the rum came out. We were anchored off of Green Turtle Cay and tied up to our Mother Ship, Otter, a Catalina 42, where dinner was being concocted. And the weather was perfect and the scenery was beautiful and I spent the next hour looking at the bottom of the sea from the cockpit just because I could.

Before the trip Steffi arranged for us to stay on a friend's 58' Catamaran, "Double Trouble" which had everything we could possibly need and more for luxurious accommodations. Here we go with the unfortunately part again, 3 days before it was scheduled to take off from Lauderdale to the Bahamas, it was struck by lightning. So for the first 5 nights we stayed anchored out on our race boat.

No air conditioning, not much water in the tanks, and a bunk to sleep on almost as wide as I was. I won't complain, there was a lovely breeze at night, plenty of salt water to dip into, and with enough rum the bunk got bigger. And by then I had gotten all the unfortnatelys out of the way, until the day I had to come home.
On our first morning there we had to be up bright and early, but not for our first race. In the Bahamas the serious drinking takes precedence over the racing and we had a party that started at 11am that morning. The party starts really early to make sure that when you get to the skippers meeting 7 hours later, you are properly prepared, or properly plastered as the case may be. The next thing I found out about the Bahamas is that if you don't get to the parties an hour before they start, you're late. So before I was totally awake I found myself with a Margarita in my hand about to be trampled by 1200 partygoers on a beautiful, previously deserted, sandy beach, just in time for the "Stranded Naked Cheeseburger in Paradise Party". I'm not going to explain that name.



The other thing about the parties during Abacos Race Week is everyone in the immediate area shows up. The immediate area is roughly between Florida and Europe. Many of the participants know nothing about sailboat racing or even sailboats, but they all know where the free booze is. Okay the party was wild. I can't tell you how wild because I was definitely out of practice and after 2 and ½ Margaritas, a great cheeseburger and 30 minutes in the hot sun waiting to buy a t-shirt, I found myself passed out in the sand for the next couple of hours and wondering how everyone else was enjoying the party.









I got dinghied back to the boat and immediately went back to sleep. I know we all went in to pick up the race package and the skipper's meeting but most of the evening is still a little blurry.
The next morning I was awakened to a voice giving the weather. It didn't take me long to realize it was really a real voice, especially when he was saying this is "Barometer Bob" it's going to be another gorgeous day in the Bahamas just like it was yesterday and will be tomorrow, now Patty back to you. Patty then went on to get a report on the sea state between islands for those attempting passages. Then came someone representing almost every bar in the Abacos talking about what was happening that evening and who was having the best parties. This was followed by questions from anyone listening about where can you get your Westerbeke diesel fixed in Great Guana or where there's a Laundromat in Marsh Harbor. Someone even called in looking for extra crew for the race that day and found someone. It was the "cruisers net" and someone organizes it on VHF 68 every morning at 8:15. They even welcomed newcomers and said goodbye to those leaving and announced which boats should call in later because email had come for them. It was very civilized.
Then we raced. After the race we went to the party at Green Turtle. The whole town was there to greet us, mostly selling food. People were opening conchs on the beach. They prepared conch salad and conch fritters and there was even fried chicken for non-conch eaters. The rum was free and the drinks were strong and the awards were handed out and a Junior Junkanoo ensued. Junkanoo started as a New Years event and now seems to happen for any excuse whatsoever. The costumes are wild and colorful and the music is rhythmic with drums and whistles and more drums and people jumping around a lot and making me tired just watching. Our Junkanoo was made up of one leader and many kids.







Wait a minute are you waiting for race details? Maybe after a couple more parties. The next day we sailed to Great Guana Cay and got there in time for the official party and the free rum at the "Blue Water Grill" followed by the unofficial party at Nippers, the place to be in Great Guana, which not only has a swimming pool, has a fabulous beach.









Did I mention how gorgeous the waters are. The snorkeling is wonderful and you don't even need gear. You can lie out on a "see through" raft and see fish floating by, rocks, sand and even starfish just sitting there on the bottom.

And the bottom is so close everywhere. When you're racing and you see 12 feet of water under the boat you relax because you are now in the deep stuff. And speaking of rum, did I mention how freely the free rum flowed. We had dueling rum sponsors, Mount Gay and Panama Jack Spiced Rum. I thought that was a great idea.
The next day the cruiser's net reminded us to leave our keys in the dinghies so that if one broke loose during the a race or during a drunken party, it would be easier for the guys at the Great Guana dive shop to help retrieve them. Very civilized.
Okay so here's the story on the races. There were about 75 boats made up of 3 classes; Multi-hulls, PHRF and Mother Tub. The official definition of the Mother Tub is that the class was established for boats equipped for cruising that do not normally compete or race competitively. No spinnakers are allowed and "Handicaps assigned by the Rce Committee may be adjusted from race to race in an effort to afford all "Mother Tub" yachts an equal opportunity to win". We were the scratch boat in the Mother Tub class, sailing on Phoenix, a 44' boat, designed by Bruce Farr in 1984. This may sound like we were pushing the definition of "Mother Tub" but Phoenix has a centerboard, air conditioning, refrigeration, lots of water, and sails as old as any sails in the Mother Tub class and much older than many of the boats. The race committee however looked slightly askance at us and our rating. On our first race we found the breeze that everyone else was looking for. Unfortunately, they all went right at the start, which was the wrong way and we went the right way, which was the left way and when the race was over we had won by 10 minutes. The next race morning we were thrilled to learn that our rating was still 72, the race committee must have noticed that most of the fleet had sailed into a hole while we hadn't. And then we noticed that everyone else in our class had gotten an extra 12 seconds a mile, so the committee had not seen what smart sailors we were.





The Great Guana Cay Race was on the 4th day of the regatta. The air was light at the start, not Chesapeake light but blowing around 10. It was another round the buoys and around the little cays race in the Sea of Abaco (the Cays look much more like big rocks than little cays). At the last mark we were 6 minutes in front of our nearest competitor who we owed 10 minutes to when we did it again. We went the right way and ended up winning the race and losing the battle of the handicaps. The race committee would tell us before the next race that we were either to take a 20 point penalty or sail in the spinnaker class.

But in the meantime there was swimming and floating and drinking and partying to do. And that night was an official Mount Gay night. The party was to start at 6 at Nipper's, so naturally we were there lined up for free rum, drinking paid for rum at 5:00. That night was a hat night and if you got in line early enough you got a Mount Gay Abaco Regatta hat. The hats ran out much sooner than the rum. It was the 4th of July and that night there were fireworks, although the Bahamas Independence Day was July 10th, it seemed like any excuse for a fireworks show was all right with them.
The next day we were on the move again. After the Great Guana race the next race was the Man-O-War Cay race. But we didn't go to Man O' War and anchor out or find a marina, we went to Marsh Harbor. The simple rationale for this was that although they say Man O' War is a quite a charming spot, it is also a dry island, and that doesn't mean no rain, that means no rum. So obviously our crowd had no desire to hang out there.
We arrived at Marsh Harbor and got a slip at a real marina; real showers, a bar, and of course a pool.



Marsh Harbor is on Great Abaco and is a "big city", which even has its own stoplight. Lunch was not being served at our half of the harbor so Steffi and I got a dinghy ride across the harbor and shopped and ate and checked out where the party was that night and found a room for 2 nights at one place, a room for one night someplace else and a room for the last 2 nights at a third place. We weren't expecting our floating condo to be struck by lightning and so we hadn't made reservations and it was the big Independence Day weekend. We were so thrilled to have beds with soft mattresses and lots of towels and pillows that we didn't mind feeling a little like gypsies.





Party that night was at Snappa's and it was another Mount Gay party, another hat, another pool, another band with dancing and another great time.









The next day was the Man-O-War, race which doesn't go to Man-O-War, just its immediate vicinity. The skipper was up all night weighing our options and decided that this was to be our first Spinnaker effort. And it was an effort. We did an Olympic course, something I haven't seen in the Chesapeake since 1997 and we raced against the big boys with the brand new sails and the sailmakers on board. (Yes some people do take Regatta Time in Abaco seriously) We lost.
The party and award ceremonies for the Man-O-War and Guana Cay races took place at Crossing Beach, a beautiful little spot with water on both sides and locals selling food (lots of conch of course) I think the rum of the night was Panama Jack and the entertainment was a big people Junkanoo and a limbo contest where the crowning moment was where the local expert manages to crab under a burning stick, lighting a cigarette as he goes.







Did I mention that Kalik beer (pronounced like click with a very short a thrown in) was also a race sponsor and not a bad beer, but the rum flowed more freely and when there was a choice of having to buy a $4 rum or $4 beer, the rum won out. Also Continental Airways was another sponsor promoting the fact that they are now flying to the Bahamas. Guess which airline I'm taking next time.
Another lay day, with snorkeling, exploring the island and a Dinghy scavenger hunt for those so inclined. I think that night there were 2 official parties, I'm sure I had a least 2 rums, maybe 2 rums each party and on to the next day and the next race.
The race du jour was the race to Hopetown. The party in Hopetown was one no one wanted to miss, but if they started out in Marsh Harbor and ended in Hopetown how did they get to shore. The answer to that one simple, a dinghy pull. You brought your dinghy out to the start of the race and attached it to the dinghys that were already lined up and a power boat pulled them all to the end of the race and your dinghy was waiting for you in Hopetown and all the dinghies got to be in a parade. Another nice touch I thought.

Back to the race. We took a third, but we have to admit that it helped a whole lot that the brand new Beneteau 47 was stuck on the bottom of Marsh Harbor and missed the start of the race by a half hour. The Hopetown party was HOT, but it was also HOT. Lots of dancing and drinking and getting wild and more Mount Gay hats and scarves and key chains and a nighttime power boat ride with no lighted buoys to show us the way back to Marsh Harbor and our hotel.







Our last day was our last race and it was actually a true windward/leeward and we actually did very badly but it was our last beautiful day in the Abacos. The last party was not much different than the first 11 or 12 except they were handing out Panama Jack hats that said Abaco Regatta 2004 instead of Mount Gay hats that said Abaco Regatta 2004.

All the rest of the trophies were handed out and by the way the trophies were the prettiest I'd ever seen, mounted statues of fish and other sea creatures, designed and forged by the local artist, Pete Johnston.


We all said our goodbyes and the next day I was back at the Air Sunshine counter of the airport being told I couldn't bring any suitcases on the plane. Somebody find me a rum.