Early this year, I had the opportunity to visit Mount Gay Distilleries and do their tour. During this tour I discovered the rich history that flourishes around the ‘Round The Island Sailing Race‘.
The Mount Gay Round Barbados Sailing race dates back 80 years. The first planned race was held on January 1st, 1936 with five trading schooners. The initial prize for this race back then was bragging rights for the fastest “Trading Schooner”. This was a prize well worth winning to captains in those days where prices for cargo arriving ahead of rival ships commanded a massive premium. The winner of the first race was Lou Kennedy on his schooner, Sea Fox, and it took him 10 hours and 20 minutes to sail the 60 nautical miles around the island.
Back at the start of the Mount Gay race, they sailed for bragging rights but they did offer a consolation prize of a barrel of Mount Gay Rum for the slowest schooner. Very quickly, some Captains decided they’d rather the barrel of rum than the bragging rights and this tradition was finally discontinued after two schooners took two days to circle the island, each trying to be the last man to cross the finish line and claim the barrel of rum. In 2016, the winning schooner gets the barrel of rum so it’s a big incentive to cross first.
Mount Gay is still sponsoring this event but the ‘Round The Island Race‘ is now on January 21st, which is a bank holiday in honour of the late Prime Minister of the island, Errol Walton Barrow, better known as “The Dipper”. Mr. Barrow helped start the Cruising Club and even though he never owned his own boat, he loved sailing. As this race takes place on a public holiday, it encourages lots of spectators on all the beaches around the island. The islanders go on picnics to watch the billowing sails of the sail boats as they race against each other.
This year, 34 boats competed in various categories and two windsurfers and we decided to watch and participate in this event – the race between two world-class MOD70s – MS Barbados Concise 10, skippered by Ned Collier Wakefield, and Phaedo3, co-skippered by Lloyd Thornburg and Brian Thompson. They promised to thrill, and indeed they did. For weeks, the dark blue MS Barbados Concise could be seen sailing on the west coast. Very impressive looking vessel which added to the excitement.
On the day of the race we decided to go and watch the two fast catamarans as they pasted Trevor’s Way. I had no idea that a sail boat could travel so fast. You could hear the wind in the sails, feel the power in the ropes and watched these boats fly through the water tipped sideways on one pontoon. The boats were flying. We were hoping to see them on the west coast but we couldn’t drive as fast as these boats were travelling so we headed to North point. We barely got there before the boats went whisking by. What a fabulous sight with perfect conditions. The wind was howling, pushing me backwards as I tried to get to the cliff edge. The sea was sparkling blue with crisp clear skies and the magnificent MOD70s having a blast racing against each other.
In the past, the record around the island was over 4 hours but these catamarans completed the entire race in 2 hours and 34 minutes cutting almost 2 hours off of the record.
We caught up with the boats again on the boardwalk where they were tipped way over racing towards the finish line. We left to try and see the finish but we were too late to see them cross the finish line with the huge roosters plume riding behind the stern. The stars of the show had completed the 60nms round the island at record breaking speed, with MS Barbados Concise clipping out Phaedo3 on the final leg.
What a wonderful race day, with ideal conditions. All the sailors got awarded the historical red caps by Mount Gay. These caps are coveted caps but only given to persons who actually compete in this race.