The 2nd Annual VP Bank Tortola Sloop Spring Challenge took place off Nanny Cay today as part of the BVI Spring Regatta’s Maritime Heritage Day. The sloops date back over 100 years and this year’s event had two noteworthy participants; His Excellency, John S. Duncan OBE, Governor of the British Virgin Islands and Sjoerd Koster, President VP Bank (BVI).
Professor Geoffrey Brooks, Curator of the Virgin Islands Maritime Museum, welcomed the participants to the regatta and announced the course: Nanny Cay Marina, around Pelican Island, past the Indians, around Flanagan Island and back to Nanny Cay.
The race of approximately 10 miles echoed the original use of the Tortola Sloops, carrying cargo and passengers to neighbouring islands. In the days before motor yachts and telephones, this was the only means of travel and communication and this heritage is of great importance to the British Virgin Islands, as Governor Duncan explains:
“When I first came to the BVI, I was instantly attracted to the Tortolan Sloops. These unique sloops have African origins, which is where I grew up, so I felt an affinity with these wonderful boats. Last year, for USVI/BVI Friendship Day I gave an oil painting of a sloop to the Governor of the USVI, because it symbolises the outreach of this nation to other nations. The sloops entrepreneurial history and the way that it has carried its culture from Africa to here, and continued to be active in the yachting world is fascinating, so it is a great honour to be able to actually sail one of them. I have sailed them before and they are wonderful craft, extraordinary for such a heavily built wooden boat. They are very manoeuvrable and can carry quite a load, but actually great fun, so I was very pleased to be invited to sail on one of them again.”
The VP Bank Tortola Sloop Challenge would not be possible without the support of VP Bank (BVI). The Bank’s President, Sjoerd Koster was also racing and explained the reasons behind their involvement:
“We support this event as we believe it is important to create awareness for the history of the British Virgin Islands, especially how the usage of the sloops were an essential part of the first economic activities in the BVI. The maritime industry is a key pillar of the tourism industry and therefore the economy of the British Virgin Islands. It is very important for us to continue to support the maritime heritage of the BVI.”
At the Prize Giving Presentation, the latest sloop, Esmie was generously donated to the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College, the home of the Virgin Islands Maritime Museum. Named after his wife Esmie, who helped to build the boat, Leando Nibbs had dreamed of building a sloop since he was a child. The sloop Esmie will now take the place among the artefacts of Virgin Islands culture and history and act as an inspiration to future generations of Virgin Islanders.
As if by magic, Esmie, skippered by Presley King, was the winner of today’s race. Presley King is 70 years of age and has been sailing all his life and started to learn how to build sloops with his father at just ten years of age:
“It wasn’t too bad out there today,” commented Presley. “Around The Indians it got a little rough, but I come from a long line of winners and we know how to fight! I was constantly talking to the trimmers; easing the main for balance and pulling on the jib for speed. It is all about boat speed with a sloop. The young sailors from the BVI should be sailing these boats and learning how to build them is also very important; that way you really know how to make them go fast. There are sloops racing all over the Caribbean and I hope that this will grow and grow for years to come.”
At just 13 years of age, Tortolan Thad Lettsome was the youngest sailor racing in the VP Bank Tortola Sloop Spring Challenge and Thad hopes to be taking part in the BVI Spring Regatta:
“I used to race optimists, but I am now a Laser racer,” said Thad. “I really enjoyed today but the most important thing I learned was to be gentle with the boat. Unfortunately, we had a problem with the rudder, which didn’t help our performance. I really enjoy racing in the sloops because I am mixing it up; you learn a lot more by sailing on different boats. I have also competed in the IC24s and the different experiences gives you more ideas on how to improve.”
1st Esmie, 2nd Intrepid, 3rd Youth Instructor, 4th Sea Moon
Racing at the BVI Spring Regatta & Sailing Festival continues tomorrow, Friday 3 April, with the first day of the BVI Spring Regatta with 12 different classes enjoying hot racing on three different courses.