By: Kristin Bourne
After learning more on what goes into preparing an Anguilla racing boat on the morning I shadowed the crew of De Tree as they set up for a race, it was time to experience a race first hand.
A daydream come true.
Meet Viking 007
As serendipity would have it, and within a matter of minutes before the start of the 11th Annual Peter Perkins Memorial Boat Race from Anguilla's Sandy Ground on a day in late July, I was welcomed aboard the Anguilla racing boat Viking 007.
Prepared and dressed for the occasion, I walked in to the water, climbed the rope ladder and boarded Viking 007 (most often referred to as 'Viking') with my bare feet and my waterproof camera secured to my tank top just to be safe.
That would later turn out to be a good call.
Once aboard I was promptly handed a life jacket. I hurried to get it on as the warning horn had blown already and the starting horn was expected at any second.
Sitting closer to the back of the boat, near the end of the captains tiller, out of the crew's way, they started to scramble and then we were gracefully under way.
Starting the race...
Having seen so many Anguilla boat races but never having known what it felt like to actually be on a boat, I strained to see above and beyond my position, down inside near the end.
The men manning the boat, the big blue sky above... it was like being in a hole floating on the sea.
Within seconds, the tops of sails came into eyesight.
My view at the race start
We were moving almost silently, and the other sails didn't seem to be moving along with us.
I noticed a satisfied look on the captains face. He said, as he smiled, "We've had a good start." Then I smiled.
This was my first interaction with the man at the helm of Viking, Captain Ivan "Ghost" Hughes.
Viking 007 Captain Ivan "Ghost" Hughes - the man on the tiller
I rose to see many of the racing boats, including previous winners who were behind us.
Looking across the boat I could see the man on the jib using his body to expand it and catch more wind. If I were strong enough, I think I would want that job!
Catching wind and hailing fellow racers as we race out of Road Bay
This particular race was leaving from Sandy Ground, sailing west and rounding a stake at the western end of Anguilla, moving on to the next stake at Rendezvous Bay on the south side, and then retracing back to Sandy Ground for the finish.
Peter Perkins' grandson,
Shavaun Richardson of Real Deal
This was an important race to many as it is honors the late Peter Perkins, an Anguillian racing guru and former operator of the stake boat.
Peter is the father of boat builder Ian Carty, who had educated me on some racing boat set-up details and is the man making sure one of the winning boats, De Tree, is in perfect order.
Peter is also the father of who I would label the "First Lady" of my favorite racing boat for many years, another top runner - Real Deal. Her family owns and comprises most of Real Deal's crew.
Peter Perkins' grandsons:
Henderick Richardson of Real Deal
and Kolube Perkins of Real Deal and Satellite
Peter Perkins' connection to sailboat racing is deep.
Having spent time with Real Deal's family at championship BBQ celebrations and at home, one thing is for sure. They are such wonderful people and they love their boat and boat racing.
It's hard not to be drawn in and pull for them.
See how boat racing is in the family and passed on? Family, extended family and friends working together and enjoying something that's in their blood... that's what boatracing in Anguilla is all about.
Extending the jib on Viking...
After we got a little further out in Road Bay those of use who didn't have a particular role other than being "weight" could rise and sit on the side of the boat.
As I sat, I watched the man on the jib.
Not only was he using his body weight to help expand the jib, he was pushing it out by the rope and the rope was being grasped only between his big and second toe.
We must have been doing something right so far as we were near the front of the fleet with UFO and Light & Peace to our left and just behind and to the right were my two favorites to watch race - Sonic and Real Deal.
Take a look at the video below to see the jib work in action!...
The surrounding scenery was special, too, as we passed some of Anguilla's most beautiful beaches: Long Bay, Meads Bay, Barnes Bay.
This was all as we headed toward the next task of rounding the stake at the far western end of the island.
Sonic and De Tree
The typical top 3 boats: De Tree, Sonic and Real Deal
I'd seen regattas and I knew when boats are nearing the stake they start lining up.
Most luckily for me and thanks to Viking's start and place in the race so far (which was near the front as we headed to the stake), both Sonic and Real Deal were so close behind I could see the whites of eyes and it looked like the boats could touch at any second.
Real Deal began moving back and forth from near Sonic to directly behind us. It reminded me of how Nascar race cars start with their weaving but it this was suave and elegant and didn't smell of exhaust or require cotton balls in the ears - just the subtle sound of swishing water and wind in sails.
I felt like squealing because it was so invigorating to be witnessing all of this. Anguilla boat racing was proving to be more thrilling than I had ever imagined...
I should note that I've always been a fan of thrill rides like roller coasters and ridden all of the rides on the top of the Las Vegas Stratosphere, I've played ball sports, competed in gymnastics, I've been scuba diving and I've surfed. Boat racing in Anguilla was triumphing over them already and we had not even had our hard lee yet.
As the boats were lining up, I looked around at the crew of the Viking and noticed looks of contentment, amusement and pleasure. Captain "Ghost" was almost always smiling.
He was clear and pleasant when he voiced what needed to be done and going around the stake required the first challenge since the start.
Sailing to the first stake was a downwind sail as the tradewind is typically coming from the east. It was the most relaxing part.
Getting closer to the stake...
The last sight of the boats for a while and just before the stake.
As we neared the stake I went to the bottom of the boat and tried to be small as to not be in the way and was also trying to watch everything at the same time but these men move fast!
...and we're going around the stake!
Going around the western stake, the boat then entered in to the water on the side south of Anguilla - the side with the channel and the neighboring island of St. Martin with rougher water.
I stayed low for a while. I craned to see sail tops because I heard the men saying "Sonic gone", meaning Sonic is ahead of us now and moving well.
A little bit later I heard someone say, "Real Deal turn back".
What had happened to Real Deal? I was thinking, "That's my boat"! Then I felt guilty as I raced on the endearing Viking and was worrying about "my boat". I'll explain those complicated emotions later on.
I lifted my head to see that we were in Shoal Bay West. Then, we passed Maunday's Bay and Cap Juluca. I could see unmistakable stark, white Moorish architecture.
I rose to see Light & Peace passing so very close to the rocky shoreline and a few spectators.
Light & Peace coming out of Maunday's Bay
I could see the boat racing spectators, better yet, boat racing fans, along the shores of Anguilla. Some stood alone in obscure places and others in larger crowds along ridges like a rainbowed wall.
Anguilla boat racing fans (picture taken from a previous race via motor boat)
I saw arms stretched out and pointing. I saw arms bent, blocking any glare to get the best visual possible. Some arms were bent in symmetry holding binoculars to their eyes.
When I focused my thoughts back to the rankings of the race I wondered again what happened to Real Deal. I lifted my body a little from a deep squat to a crouch to see what I could see…
I didn't see the Dr. Dina sponsored sail of Real Deal and I should have. They had turned back and I later learned they had bent their boom.
Refocusing on the race, I could see we had entered the far western end of Rendezvous Bay and knew we'd be rounding a stake on the far eastern side of the bay as this was the turning point of the race.
It took a fair deal of time to reach that stake but we had been doing a lot of tacking since we weren't sailing downwind any longer.
Water needs to be bailed
as there is no deck on Anguillian racing boats
After coming around to this side of the island, Viking had started to bail water.
Since Anguilla racing boats do not have a deck, as water comes in to the boats it has to be bailed out from time to time, or if conditions are warranting, constantly.
I learned that when water is bailed it's done with a smaller and manageable plastic container and with no real precision. The Viking bailers made no gripes as it's part of Anguilla boat racing.
At times, the water being bailed out got carried by wind and came back in, or if it hit the boom some went out and some splashed back in. Sometimes there was more water rushing in the boat than was being bailed out!
From where I was on the boat which was closer to the captain in the back than to the front, I didn't receive much more than a few splashes here and there. The men up front got the wettest.
If water came in when we tacked, I didn't notice, here's why…
We were tacking more now. And as a clueless, first-timer, when we tacked my goals were to move my body quickly to the other side of the boat and to stay out of the way of anything and everyone (and not get fingers or toes stepped on or elbowed in the face and to not do the same to anyone else).
Doesn't sound that difficult but then, factor in many crew members, almost all moving at the same time, maneuvering under the boom, in a wooden boat with no deck, with slanted wooden planks that are wet, while the boat is shifting direction in the water. And not much to hold on to.
I loved it. I don't know if I was good at it and I think some tacks were more graceful than others but it doesn't matter!
Sonic crew "up on the side"
(image from a previous race via motor boat)
After the tack the crew packs up against one side of the boat. I couldn't help but be reminded of my years of being packed like sardines in a New York City subway during rush hour. This was cleaner and much more fun.
If the crew was still tending to something, occasionally you'd hear the Captain request the men to get up on the side. I tried to go for the same spot each time but it didn't always work out that way.
The main man keeping to the bottom of the boat and bailing was thoughtful in keeping an eye on me and telling me first where I needed to move and thereafter, when.
During this part of the race I noticed the burn in my rarely exercised thighs and imagined that I would pay with soreness the next day. This is when I realized not only do Anguilla racing sailors need to have upper body strength with pulling on ropes of sails and such, just squatting alone requires some fitness and of course, balancing when moving about on a deckless boat.
Since we'd been tacking quite a bit I had lost track of what was happening with the other boats. Again, I went for a quick extension from my squatting position to see where we were…
The Viking crew
I could tell we were in the middle of Rendezvous Bay now and I could see the beautiful salmon color I know to be the racing boat Satellite coming right for us. I looked around and then looked back - still coming right for us, getting closer and closer.
Frozen and smiling, I couldn't bring myself to assume my lower position just yet because could it be…? We were about to have a hard lee!
Note: A hard lee in Anguilla boat racing is when the tacks of two boats are on a course for an impending collision - the crew are to shout "hard lee" and the boats are then expected to turn away from each other so that they don't collide.
The gamut of emotions that followed was a new sensation. First, a first hand view of this pretty boat sailing straight at us was special and as it came very near the excitement was quickly laced with a tiny bit of fear but that was overshadowed by the anticipation and assumption that no matter what happened, all would be ok.
The stimulation and adrenaline of finally being able to experience this unique sport first hand clouds what happened next! All I remember is that the Satellite was very close and it looked like we would at least bump sides. I had to move, get low and do all of the things that a spectator doesn't normally do.
We didn't touch and I'm not sure how. This day just kept getting better and better.
From what I understand, Anguillian boat racing rules for the hard lee do not follow International boat racing rules. Anguillians claim it's part of their heritage and culture to race the way they do and don't find a good reason to comply.
I respect their renegade approach in respect to preservation and I felt overjoyed I got to experience one on my first race.
My view of the top of the Rendezvous stake
After that bit of adrenaline rush it was time to round the stake and head back toward the finish line in Sandy Ground.
We had fallen back a bit on this side but were still mid-way between the faster boats and the slower boats, lingering around 5th.
After the Rendezvous Bay stake it was smooth sailing downwind again, time to sit on the side and chat with the crew as they began dropping sand.
Some were saying she (the boat) was "stiff" and needed to drop sand. The captain let his crew have their discussions and had also given the helm over to one of the much younger sailors on board.
Viking dropping sand
Lead and sand bag adjustment on Viking
We did not end up dropping sand until we had rounded the west end stake once more and were going upwind on the north side of Anguilla.
That's when Captain "Ghost" was directing lead and sandbag adjustments and one bag of sand was relinquished overboard.
I had only seen this done before when following a race in a motor boat when Sonic had dumped some sand.
Telltale sign of dropped sand,
lights up the water and then fades in an instant
(image from a previous race via motor boat)
What I found out from sailing on Viking was how heavy the bags are and how strong the men must be that are dumping it overboard.
I was glad they dumped sand as my instincts had told me they should have when the initial discussion about it was under way.
And sure enough, with the alterations dictated by the captain, we began moving better through the water.
Sonic had pulled away and was almost certain to win the race unless something unforeseen happened. She had won the prior race as well.
The second and third place titles from our distance seemed more competitive between Satellite and De Tree. Light & Peace was ahead of us too but it was rewarding to feel as though we were moving through the sea well, no matter our place in the race.
There was some open discussion about when and roughly where to tack as we were coming in to Road Bay after having picked up speed.
The Viking captain was firm in his decision on when and roughly where to tack and I liked his confidence, plus he'd done this many times before. As for this race, every move he'd made had had a positive result.
Viking came in 5th place. For me, crossing the finish line wasn't as climactic as every other part of the race. Perhaps if the finish had been tight with another boat, it would be. The crew were all very light-hearted and seemed fulfilled with their performance and I felt proud of them.
What I was amazed and impressed with this crew was that the majority were people who were staying positive and encouraging their fellow crew if they got down about something. I overhead someone tell someone else, "don't say 'can't'".
I also loved that the majority were mostly looking forward and not back to see who was coming. Of course, they kept an eye on who was where but really focused on going ahead and not worrying about what was behind them.
In chatting while they were breaking down the boat, which began immediately after reaching Sandy Ground, I found out they were racing with a brand new jib and needed to make some changes to it. There had been one point in particular where it gave a bit of trouble during the race.
Viking rests back in Sandy Ground
and the reverse of set-up gets under way
When I asked if Viking had been built new and wondered how old it was, I found out it was the former De Chan boat hull. That was special to know since De Chan holds a place as a former winning boat in Anguilla racing history.
They also planned to pull it out of the water immediately and get it ready for the next race.
Viking 007's home village in Anguilla is South Hill. The youngest sailor that day was 12 years old and his father also races on the boat.
I sat on the edge for a while, admiring the view from there and attempting to absorb all that had just taken place (and was still taking place as the huge sail slowly crumpled down around me and on to the hull)…
The crew of Viking 007 could not have been any cooler. My experience on their boat could not have been any better. Captain Ivan "Ghost" Hughes is a calm and collected cool cat who smiles when he's racing.
As I sat there I also recalled how I had accidentally witnessed Viking 007 going in to the water for the first time back in May of 2013. I was walking the beach and had my camera on me and captured it on video.
One last tidbit detail. In Anguilla boat racing, some wear shoes and some go barefoot. I went barefoot that day and had plenty of time to look at my own feet while down low and squatting in the boat.
Viking Plank Red toenail polish
I noticed I happened to be wearing an atypical color for my toenails that day and the color happened to be the same as the interior painted wood planks of Viking and I thought, "I match this boat!". This may be my way of keeping everything balanced out as Anguillian boat racing is historically very masculine sport.
There was one other female on Viking that day, a newcomer to the island and also her first time. She said she wanted to experience it after she heard about it.
I had further amused myself with thinking my first racing experience was meant to be on this boat for this race... I recall having been impressed with Viking on the Anguilla Day race when another boat put a hole in the upper side of her upon starting yet she still raced and I found I was pulling for her to have a good finish. Now for the Peter Perkins race, first, we had a good start. Second, I got such nice view of Real Deal racing so close to us. Third, we had a hard lee! I could continue because everything that took place was a super experience.
Viking during her 2015 Anguilla Day race start
Thankfully, I got over guilting myself for my now multiple Anguilla racing boat connections. Why the guilt?
Because Anguillian boat racing is competitive and bragging rights are important to most involved as well as their backers. Since I'm not Anguillian, and I'm generally not competitive, I've decided not to pressure myself in to having one boat as many do. In Anguilla you often hear, "Who's your boat?".
With Real Deal in 2013
So my approach is this… I am intrigued by the Anguillians die hard connection to a boat.
Yes, Real Deal is "my boat" - the first one I really started following and liking for several reasons and I will continue to. She's special to me.
I think Sonic is beautiful to watch and I admire its often rebellious course. It's also considered a Sandy Ground boat and that's my home village - which is very Anguillian of me.
I've now spent time speaking with two key men of De Tree - Karu and Ian, and while I've been adverse to that boat for some reason over the years, I want it to do well for those men I now know.
I almost always like underdogs, so if you see a race where some of the typical bottom finishers are doing well, how can you not pull for them? I admire their tenacity in returning race after race with prize money or top finishes not necessarily being their motivation, but for the love of boat racing. And now… My sublime connection to serendipitous Viking 007. I feel like calling it "my boat" now too.
Ultimately I want to see a close race and a safe race. Although not often heard as the competitive banter may overtake that thought, I'm sure this is the wish of others too.
Viking crossing the finish in a previous race
The sweet sport of Anguilla boat racing... The powerful reverberation of the sail, a flapping jib, varying sounds water hitting wood as the boat moves, the wind-muffled voice of the man near the front of the boat calling the wind, the closeness of the water and the spray of the sea, the mingling of camaraderie and competitiveness, the enduring simplicity of the Anguilla racing boat design, the family ties and the history.
I was drawn to it from the first race I happened upon. The warm reception of my interest by the Richardson family of Real Deal fueled my love for Anguilla's National sport further...
The well-written book and film "Nuttin Bafflin" by David Carty provide a necessary documentation of the history of a sport that helps keep this beautiful, small island jolly and focused on heritage...
The conversations with those connected are valued and now I'm extremely thankful for the warm and welcoming crew of Viking 007. I'll be back!