While enjoying the small-town carnival atmosphere in Carriacou for their annual Regatta last month, we spent the final day in the island’s capital town of Hillsboro to witness a different kind of sailboat racing. The highlight event of the Regatta was the races between rival teams both on the island and among those from their neighboring islands, including Grenada, Union Island in the Grenadines, as well as teams from both islands of Trinidad & Tobago.

They race what are locally called Workboats, a design used by commercial fishermen and others who carried on commerce around and among the islands in years past. These days outboard engines are plentiful and available to the islanders, allowing them to do their work, be it harvesting fish or conch or other seafood or delivering produce to markets, even when there is either not enough or too much wind. But these days craftsmen make these classic sailboats, paint them bright colors and one or more times a year they race the other teams in Regattas similar to this one hosted by neighboring islands.

The races would start, in islander lingo, “Jus’ Now”. They were officially scheduled to begin at 10 AM and we were on hand at the prescribed time only to see them either working on the boats, talking and laughing amongst themselves, or sleeping off some of last night’s party in a shady spot. Lunchtime came and went. The day’s heat began to intensify as the tropical sun passed overhead.

The boats lined up along the beach, careened over on their sides with sails hoisted. Some crewmen were repairing or remaking a thick bamboo pole used for gaffing the sail out to its full size. Others used whatever was available to make repairs or complete their preparations for the day’s races.

It was after 1 PM when messengers from each boat filtered up into the crowded street and retrieved information on the race courses for the different “classes” of boats, loosely defined by their hull size and number of crew. The music on the streets blared out from enormous speakers and bodies started to gyrate with the beat as the food and drink began to flow. Then one after another, each class would move off of the beach where one or two fellows stood waist deep in the water holding the boats in place while the crew would jump aboard and finish rigging the sails, rudder, and centerboards, then take their places ready for the start.

On command from the person in authority the boats started their race from a standstill just off the beach, unlike any sailing race start I’d ever seen, and the crowds cheered as the winds filled the sails and the boats picked up speed moving off the beach.

Then the spectators returned to the festivities on land as the boats moved away from the shore and out of range suitable for viewing. The music and drink continued to flow as each class began their race.  About the time the final class was off the beach and on their way the leaders of the first race were coming back into the beach to the finish line near where they began.

Not your garden variety sailboat race.  Simple boats with experienced sailors onboard, many with simple but matching T-shirts for their club or country,  All had great pride in their skills and most of all, were having great fun.