Dismasting, Carriacou Congestion, Record-breaking Protests
“Race committee, race committee, this is Galatea,” crackled the VHF as I sat on a spectator boat near the start line. It was the first race of the day. Galatea had just tacked upwind, making her way toward the first mark and, despite having a late start, was closing in on the other Classics ahead of her. “Race committee, race committee, this is Galatea” came again, this time with just enough urgency in his voice to convey that there was trouble. And a third time “Race committee, race committee, this is Galatea, we’ve been dismasted and have a crew member in the water.” My stomach sank and my mind immediately went to the worst-case scenario. My Dad and a handful of close friends were
crew aboard the 125-year old classic, Galatea, and panic began to set in as I realized that someone could be seriously injured.
It was the fourth and last race day of the 2023 Pure Grenada Sailing Week, Grenada’s annual regatta that ran from January 29 to February 3 this year, the first time in three years that the regatta ran its full week-long roster of events. The 2021 event was canceled due to Covid, and in 2022 Grenada Sailing Week (GSW) partnered with the Petite Calivigny Yacht Club (PCYC), a small club based out of Le Phare Bleu Marina. Together they hosted a three-day event based around PCYC’s annual around-Grenada race, which included a stopover in Grenada’s sister isle of Carriacou.
The Carriacou portion of the event proved so popular that the GSW board of directors decided to continue to include Carriacou as a destination. The 2023 Pure Grenada Sailing Week began with final registration and a skipper’s briefing in Carriacou on Sunday, January 29. The next day boats raced a 30-mile course around the island, starting and finishing in Tyrrel Bay. The second race day, Tuesday, January 31, began again from Tyrrel Bay, but this time the sailors ventured the 14 miles of open ocean from Carriacou to Grenada, and then another 16 miles down Grenada’s windward coast to Le Phare Bleu Marina. February 1 was a lay day, with Hobie cat match racing and family fun activities at
Le Phare Bleu. The fleet returned to the racecourse the next day, the first day of multiple races around the cans off Prickly Bay, the last of which brought the fleet around Point Saline for a finish in Grand Anse. The regatta finished off with a final race day of shorter races off Grand Anse.
Final registration took place at Las Iguanas, a small cafe and restaurant at Carriacou Marine in Tyrrel Bay, and for the second year in a row I was sitting at the table as a member of the organizing committee. I was joined by Bastien Pouthier, the Caribbean Sailing Association’s chief measurer, along with volunteers Aggie and Carleton, who were dutifully guarding the Mount Gay Rum red caps and skippers bags. Bastien had spent the last couple of days measuring boats and assigning CSA ratings, a system I attempted to grasp while checking in the 30-odd boats that would be taking part. Because of the number of boats that often register at the last minute, final number and type of CSA classes couldn’t be determined until just before the regatta began. Final classes and numbers were as follows; CSA 1: 5 boats, CSA 2: 11 boats, Simplified: 4 boats, Classic: 7 boats, Multihull: 6 boats.
There were a number of other logistical challenges for both the organizing committee and the participants, particularly that of running a regatta across two islands. While the breathtaking landscape and excitement of circumnavigating Carriacou and then an offshore race to Grenada lent novelty and adventure, participants had to cope with finding crew accommodation ashore and transport back and forth in Carriacou, a small island not accustomed to the demands of a regatta this size. Transportation of equipment during the race from Carriacou to Grenada was also a consideration. The GSW committee did its best to preempt these issues, arranging for heavily discounted dock space and complementary water taxis and bus transport.
Light winds once again plagued the fleet as the horn blew in Tyrrel Bay for the second race day which would take the boats 38 miles from Carriacou to Grenada. The largest class, CSA 2 with 11 boats, had the tightest and most exciting start of the regatta so far as the Farr 65, Spirit of Juno, inexplicably jibed shortly after the start line, narrowly missing another boat and provoking loud gasps from the race committee. The fleet set off for the passage through open ocean, around offshore islands, and then hoisted spinnakers for the downwind run along the rainforested peaks of the Grenada mainland. The local favorite Category 5, however, failed to pass outside one of the offshore islands, and was disqualified from the race. Bronwen McKiever’s Sea Swan beat her much larger rivals to take first place in the Simplified class, and Glacier, the locally built Carriacou Sloop and class underdog, placed first. Final results for the remaining classes were as follows. CSA1: Terrien Jean Francois’s Sang Neuf. CSA 2: Mark Chapman’s Dingolay. Multihull: Spirit of Everest.
The fleet had a layday for some much-needed rest before returning to the racecourse on February 2 for a series of shorter races off Grenada’s south coast. It was a hectic day on the water, first with a mark going adrift between class starts, and then more misfortune for Apollon and Daphne as the crew found themselves hooked on the start mark. An ambiguous course chart diagram and lack of awareness of the Sailing Instructions led to a record 11 protests. It was a long afternoon of protest hearings, which eventually led to five boats being disqualified from the final race of the day. The prizegiving was delayed, but eventually the day’s results were announced: CSA 1: GFA Caraibes – La Morrigaine. CSA 2: Huey Too. Simplified: Zig Zag. Classic: Galatea. Multihull: Delphine.
The fourth and final race day began off Grand Anse, a two-mile arc of golden white sand and Grenada’s premiere beach location. The tradewinds had picked up with intermittent gusts of 23 knots as the fleet headed out to the courses. The spectator boat I was on was late to the start line, so we mulled about trying to stay out of everyone’s way until we could sneak in to idle next to the committee boat for the next series of starts. We had just made it into the shadow of the committee boat when Galatea’s news came through, my sense of relief at a successful regatta shattered as I impatiently waited for word on the safety of the crew. Finally it came; a female crew member had gone overboard, but she and everyone else was fine. Galatea had lost the top 12 feet of her wooden mast and was being towed to a nearby mooring. As the spectator boat motored back into the bay we could see her crew on deck staring up at the brave soul who had been hoisted up the mast to rig up a temporary halyard.
The crew member that had gone in the drink was a friend of mine, Katrina Kelshall, Galatea’s first mate, whom I caught up with later that night. “We don’t really know what happened, but I think it was one of the top spreaders that went first,” she told me. “We’d had a late start, which I was quietly brooding about, but we were heading for the first mark and had just caught up with the rest of our class.”
They were approached by another boat that had the right of way, forcing them to duck behind. “I was calling the duck, just to shave their transom, when I heard the bang, and the shroud I was holding onto let go. The next thing I knew I was in the water.”
Katrina made it safely back aboard just as the crew were hauling in the splintered mast. Despite being given the opportunity to disembark, the entire crew decided to stay on board to sail Galatea back around to her home port that evening.
After an additional four protests that afternoon, none of which resulted in any changes to the rankings, overall winners were announced: CSA 1: GFA Caraibes – La Morrigaine. CSA 2: Huey Too. Classics: The Blue Peter. Multihull: Delphine. Simplified: Zig Zag.
As the band set up for the final party of the regatta I reflected on the events of the week. Even with the record-breaking number of protests and the emotionally-charged hearings that undoubtedly left many sailors frustrated, the members of the GSW committee continued to be treated with kindness, gratitude, and respect.
The entire Galatea crew remained steadfastly aboard to sail her safely home, impressing everyone with their dedication; and the news of someone going overboard made all the stressors of a hectic week seem so small and unimportant. Everyone was safe, and that was all that really mattered