Hard Lee!: Sailboat Racing at Anguilla’s Summer Festival

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Words by Ravi Lloyd—

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Throughout the years, Anguillans have taken to the ocean to survive. The sailboat, a common tool of the Caribbean, was redesigned by Anguillans to fit their needs. As a result, boat racing has become deeply rooted in Anguilla’s heritage, and is a center point of carnival, officially known as Anguilla Summer Festival.

The development of the Anguillan sailboat started with the adaptation of the Nova Scotian schooner.  Anguillans used these schooners for several years, sailing to and from the Dominican Republic to cut sugar cane. Later, with high taxes from the British on foreign goods, such as rum, they began to craft smaller boats to be able to sail inter island.

In the dark of the night, Anguillans would navigate by the stars to obtain the goods. When the time was right, they would land the boat on the sand, a crucial element that encouraged the development of a shallow keel (as compared to a yacht). The hull of the boat was designed to be open, so friends waiting on the shore could quickly empty the boat, and sailors could easily change the weight by adding, or losing, goods to avoid getting caught. Today, we celebrate carnival while drinking what these unique sailboats were designed to carry—rum.

Carnival runs from Thursday, August 1st, to the 11th this year. The opening weekend will host the Soca Monarch, Bandclash and Junior Calypso competitions in the area known as The Valley. The first warm-up boat race will be held Sunday the 4th in Sandy Ground to prepare for the main race the following day.

The first Monday of August is the biggest day of Anguilla’s carnival. August Monday, as it’s known, begins before sunrise with J’Ouvert featuring local soca bands on semi trucks loaded with speakers. The jam will be packed for miles, finishing at Sandy Ground, Anguilla’s main port. Awaiting the parade are the pride and joy of Anguilla—fifteen boats representing different villages, or neighborhoods, of the island.

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Revelers feting on the beach at Sandy Ground

The boats are rigged with large main sheets, almost 80 feet high, and long boom poles extending past the stern, an uncommon characteristic among international styles. The race begins around noon, and one can then take a trip out to sea following the race in a speedboat. If you are lucky, you may see a “hard lee”—something not allowed in racing anywhere else. International racing rules permit that, in a situation where two boats are sailing towards each other, the boat without the right away must turn away, thus losing position. In Anguilla, two boats can collide if the captains choose. If you hear, “hard lee!” out in the water, be sure to watch for some action—and possibly to help rescue a sinking crew.

After the race, the party continues with live music performances and some of the best eats on the beach. Be sure to taste the lobster, yellow-tail snapper, goat soup, conch soup, johnny cakes and other Anguillan specialties.

Carnival continues with boat racing and parties throughout the week at different harbors on the island. Rankings are calculated and the boats that qualify participate in the Champions of Champions race on Sunday, the 11th. Other events include the Anguilla Calypso Monarch, the Leeward Islands Calypso Monarch (which pits the local champ against titleholders from St. Kitts and Nevis, Antigua, St. Maarten, St. Thomas, Montserrat, St. Croix and Tortola), Miss Summer Swimsuit Pageant, Miss Anguilla Queens Pageant, and more.

Visit anguillasummerfestival.com, or The Anguilla Summer Festival Facebook page for updates. And go to the next page to see some vintage photos from the Anguilla Archaeological and Historical Society documenting the unique history of boating on Anguilla.