Boom Time Barbados!
by Sue Pelling
Barbados is fast becoming a Mecca for international sailing events. Sue Pelling investigates the island's unique model that makes it so attractive to visiting sailors.
The Caribbean, with its natural attractions that include sun, clear turquoise water, constant tradewinds, and regular, sensibly priced, direct flights from key destinations, has long been recognized as a prime option for those seeking the winter sun.
Now, with such a diverse selection of sailing events on offer throughout the Caribbean during the post-Christmas race season, ranging from local regattas to the biggest superyacht events in the world, it's not surprising the number of sailors lured by delights of tropical sailing continues to grow.
Barbados is an interesting case because other than its genuinely friendly welcome, sailing heritage that dates back over 80 years, and a reasonably healthy regular turnout for club racing for dinghies, J/24s and yachts at the island's main clubs - Barbados Yacht Club and Barbados Cruising Club - visiting sailors to the island, other than cruising sailors, historically were fairly low key.
Having said that, there was a time in the 1920s and 1930s when Carlisle Bay was filled with trading schooners that delivered food supplies from Canada to Barbados. On their return voyage they took rum, molasses and fine Barbados sugar back to their destinations.
In more recent years, in the last ten years or so, the most recognized sailing event in Barbados was probably the Mount Gay regatta. Even then it was only through the likes of local sailors such as Peter Gilkes, passionate about encouraging a more international turnout, did Barbados as regatta location begin to appear on the global radar.
Upholding its rich racing heritage, which dates back to 1936, and identifying its opportunities to break records as its Unique Selling Point, the Mount Gay Round Barbados Race Series (MGRBS) was re-launched six years ago and has become the island's signature sailing event. Organized by Barbados Cruising Club in association with Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc, and Mount Gay, the MGRBR was cleverly positioned on the calendar in January to be the opening event of the Caribbean race season.
On the global map
The timely and successful re-launch, under new management, headed by a small but professional committee including Peter Gilkes, Alene Stone and Howard Palmer, has resulted in the MGRBR becoming a world recognized event that offers top class racing for local, classic, and booming charter fleets.
Gilkes, Consultant to the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc for Yachting Development and one of the many who have been instrumental in developing Barbados as a key sailing destination, commented, "We are blessed with this amazing, natural sailing playground in Carlisle Bay and are delighted that we are now in a position to share it with the sailing community both locally and globally.
"Of course the conditions are key when it comes to selecting an ideal sailing location, but Barbados has so much more to offer. Those who return to the island time and time again for sailing events say that other than the warm friendly welcome, and the guaranteed fantastic sailing, it is the logistics - having the event based at one location, near the capital city of Bridgetown and the easy access to and from the airport - that really makes a difference. With this in mind, we strive to continue to make our guests happy and comfortable and most of all, offer top class racing."
The results of the committee's clear vision and associated global publicity campaign, has put Barbados on the map as a prime playground for high-performance yacht and multihull teams and windsurfers.
For these adrenaline-fuelled speed sailors, the thrill and opportunity of being able to break records and win their skipper's weight in Mount Gay rum in the 60-mile sprint around the island of Barbados, is too tempting to resist. The current record-breaking time to beat is 2 hours, 37 minutes, 38 seconds recorded in 2016 by the super-fast foiling multihull MOD70 MS Barbados Concise 10. The original record time established in the first race in 1936 was 10 hours 20 minutes, set by Sea Fox, a cargo schooner sailed by Captain Lou Kenedy.
To ensure Barbados became known as more than just a "one-pony race", there was a vision to diversify and create a base in which to develop its unique model to run successful sailing events.
Carlisle Bay, the sailing hub in Barbados, offers the keen racing sailor plenty of natural attractions, not least of which is good, clear uninterrupted air. Although the tradewinds can occasionally whip up a swell, which can create a challenge particularly when launching off Barbados Yacht Club's white sandy beach, once through the surf, the race course offers spectacular sailing with the winds generally around 12 to 18 knots.
For many, Barbados is more than just a regatta venue; it is perfect for a family holiday with many racers extending their trip either side of the event. Barbados is noted as being a friendly island with little crime, which is why it is a popular choice for holidaymakers.
A world-class dinghy championship destination
Thanks to the backing and support of Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc (BTMI), the MGRBR committee, the Barbados Sailing Association, and the island's valuable relationship with the British-based sailing event organizer Andrew Davies, Barbados has developed into a popular world-class dinghy championship destination.
Over the last six years, Barbados has hosted an impressive stream of international dinghy events including the Fireball, SAP 505, and GP14 World Championships. And as we go to press, the Olympic Finn Masters, and OK World Championships are taking place from Barbados Yacht Club and Barbados Cruising Club.
In her position as chairman of the world championship organizing committee and Mount Gay Round Barbados Race Series Manager, Alene Stone said it is extremely rewarding to welcome visitors back time and time again: "Barbados is a unique family friendly destination, and we are delighted to be able to share our amazing sailing conditions and fabulous Bajan hospitality with the international sailing community. We see new visitors turn into returning friends, year in year out."
Andrew Davies, Event Director at Barbados World Sailing, responsible for coordinating the dinghy championship events, is also a keen competitor. His years of championship experience and his knowledge put him in the ideal position to ensure the overall success of these popular events.
In his role as liaison between class associations, local sailing authorities, Customs, tourism boards and sponsors/partners, Davies is able deal with all the boring and time-consuming bits. Importantly, through his connections with local shipping lines he obtains preferential deals for transporting fleets of dinghies and is able to offer competitors the best possible championship package.
Naturally the success of these events is the result of a lot of hard work by dedicated members, and volunteers, but there is no doubt Davies is the link and one of the key components that makes it all happen.
Davies, commenting from the current world championships, said, "Having built up a good, trusting relationship over the years with shipping lines such as Geest, I am able to offer a good deal to the sailors, which is key. Thankfully, all the world championships to date have been hugely successful and, with sailing as a sport in Barbados on the increase, we hope we can build on the success and welcome more and more classes to the island."
Devon Chase, Senior Development Officer for Sport in Barbados, concurs, and adds that it is all about building a good reputation: "The island's successful hosting of the Fireball Worlds, SAP 505 World Championships and the GP14 World Championships, just to mention a few, has been testimony to our ability to attract and execute world-class sailing events and it is our intention to continue to build on this legacy.
"In addition, although we've been in the business of tourism for many years, Barbados continues to retain its aspirational positioning. People are still very much excited by the prospect of a visit to Barbados. Outside of the sailing, there is the nightlife, the restaurants, the activities and the attractions and the friendliness of our people, all of which, when combined, make the Barbados experience a compelling one for prospective visitors. With these factors in mind, the response from the sailing community to the island has always been positive and therefore encouraging for us."
Not just racers
It is also important to remember that the Barbados Government, which is passionate about the development of sailing, has just overseen the building of a snazzy new 40-berth marina facility at the conveniently located Shallow Draught harbor. Chase says that the Government of Barbados has pledged its continued support to the development of yachting and sailing, and to making life as easy as possible for visiting sailors. Chase said, "As well as the new marina, it includes a new building built specifically to house officials of Customs, Immigration and Port Health; plans are also in train to effect the SailClear Program, this with a view to easing the clearance procedure for visiting sailors. This system will allow the captains to enter all of the Customs and Immigration clearance details for their crew online prior to arrival, and simply update same as they travel between the islands.
"To complement Government's developmental efforts, we at the BTMI have actively been promoting the island as a desirable yachting and sailing destination while seeking new opportunities to attract other world-class sailing events to our shores.
"Barbados is heavily dependent on tourism and we have seen examples cited through recent studies which have shown the benefits (e.g. the generation of much-needed foreign exchange, job creation, etcetera) to be derived from yachting and sailing activities. It therefore made sense for us to pursue this activity as a viable option of providing additional economic benefits to the country."
Barbados lies nearly 90 miles east of the Caribbean chain in the Windward Islands, and is an ideal landfall for yachts crossing the Atlantic from the Cape Verde or Canary Islands. Until recently however, mooring facilities were limited but since the development of the new Shallow Draught Marina in Bridgetown, there's been an influx of cruising sailors, including a fleet of 73 yachts and 297 crew competing in the Atlantic Odyssey earlier this year.
The Bajan celebration of Jimmy Cornell's Caribbean Odyssey was the last of the four events in the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc.-sponsored "Barbados 50" project to mark the 50th anniversary of Barbados Independence last year. It was also, however, the first of the Caribbean Odyssey's three-year commitment with Barbados, so hopefully there'll be even more yachts arriving for the 2018 event next February.
Chase, talking about the future of sailing on the island, said, "Ultimately it is our goal to establish Barbados as one of the premier yachting and sailing destinations in the Caribbean region, not only in terms of competitive events but also as it relates to attracting a more leisurely yachting and sailing enthusiast - one who just simply wants to spend some time on the island. Taking into consideration where we are to date relative to our competitors, we are mindful to be realistic with our ambitions and do recognize that there is still some work to be done in terms of continually improving the product. Little by little we have been and will continue to make small steps in the right direction. The Government is more than well aware of the potential that exists, and I'm sure will be guided by broader policy objectives and continued strategic planning."
As a final note, William Griffith, CEO of the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc., commented on the all-important economic impact of sailing events in Barbados: "Sailing is in our heritage, so we are passionate at supporting these events and showcasing our fantastic island through maritime interests. Tourism on the island of Barbados continues to grow but hosting events like the GP14 Worlds, which brings in hundreds of extra visitors, adds immensely to our economy, so it is a valuable resource to us."
International Sailing Events Held in Barbados
Within the Past 12 Months to Date
• GP14 World Championship – March 26th through April 4th, 2016
• Mount Gay Round Barbados regatta – January 16th through 24th, 2017
• OK World Championship – May 24th through 31st, 2017
The Finn Masters World Championship will be held June 2nd through 9th, 2017
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