10 lessons learned on an Anguilla race boat

On May 30, Anguilla celebrates Anguilla Day which marks the eviction of the St Kitts police from Anguilla. The public holiday celebration includes an official award ceremony on the James Ronald Webster park, family picnics and the much anticipated party on the sea for the “round-the-island” boat race.

This year, I was fortunate enough to participate in the “round-the-island” boat race as a crew member of the “De Chan”, a veteran, past “Champion of Champions” A-class sailing boat, captained by Aristo Richardson.

I was one of the crew of young, excited sailors, a few like myself being first time. There was not a full complement and this might have contributed to our boat completing the 5+ hour race around Anguilla behind most of the others in the race.

Nevertheless, the experience afforded me these valuable lessons.

  1. It’s so easy to “miss the boat” (pun intended!)

Missing the boat becomes so real when the horn sounds to signal the start of the race and the wind blows and some of your crew members are within sight or aren’t there yet. Being a minute away – or, even seconds – doesn’t matter when there is a race to be won or a goal to complete because, at that point, you have missed the boat. This has definite consequences for the team and impacts the outcome of the race. 5 seconds late or 5 seconds early could mean 5 hours in last place or to the front of the race, respectively.

  1. Strategy is integral but execution is king!

A late start and a deficit crew meant something had to be done to stay within the race. Whether it was more sheet, less jib or the displacement of weight on the boat, a strategy was needed to stay within the race and catch up. The ultimate strategy was a quick maneuver around the stake to catapult the boat back into the race. However, execution is king and with a near collision pending, the strategy was disbanded and the crew left scrambling to regain control – this missed opportunity had a high cost.

  1. Adversity brings you closer, team work makes you stronger

The boat, having undergone a great deal of strain from a quick maneuver by her captain to avoid collision, lost significant headway after changing the positioning of its sails and weight and was left bobbing in the water. The team was, however, proactive in its movements to put the boat back in motion and to the speed it once had – some re-positioning the jib, others pulling the sheet and the rest moving the sand bags back into place. Though it took some time, cooperation by the team meant that we could be back sailing.

  1. Listen to the Captain

The captain is the leader of the boat – his word is final. He is not only charged with ensuring that the boat is sailing well and directing it towards victory but also with the safety of his team. Through the directives of the captain, the boat was able to regain itself and was well on its way to being back into the race.

  1. Communication is key

However, communication is key. The captain does not see or know everything especially with the unique set up of Anguilla race boats. He depends on his crew for knowledge of the positioning of other boats, distance from land, reefs and the direction of the wind. Without communication, one may be left drifting out of the race or heading into danger.

  1. Stay the course

There is nothing wrong with coming last. We see motivating videos of Olympic athletes who, through injury, managed to pull themselves across the finish line. Perseverance is admirable and in boat race, there are many stories of boats coming from behind and passing others at the last moment. But, having noticed that some parts of the boat had broken free, the captain was left with the decision to return to harbour or find a way to “stay the course” – and, that he did.

  1. Be able to improvise

To remain in the race, we improvised. Like the many other boats which took on lots of water or busted a cable, we were left to improvise. Under the immense pressure of wind and sea, we lost pins/bolts which held vital parts of the boat in place. Additionally, being short of crew for counterweight against the wind, something had to be done. The pins were replaced with spare bolts or pins taken from areas which did not need them as much; and, the positioning of sand bags acted as crew to counter the force of the wind. These decisions gave us the ability to get pass choppy waves and maintain distance ahead of trailing boats.

  1. Mental toughness has many forms

Out there, on the open sea, it can be easy to fear. Fear of the unknown below, fear of water getting in or even being afraid of a little sun burn. Mental toughness takes many forms in Anguilla boat racing. It incorporates enduring long hours on the sea, in the sun, and combating wind and water. It means holding your ground as you approach another boat, at which point, a maneuver known as a “Hard Lee” is used to tack away from collision. It means staying seated in your position as the boat leans with the wind and raises your side of the boat into the air while the water splashes along the rail and the boat is almost ready to scoop in water. Mental toughness means having the resolve to do what it takes to stay afloat.

  1. You are not finished when you cross the finish line

You may breathe a sigh of relief to know that the race is done. Even the winning crew, who may be anxious to celebrate, is not finished when they cross the finish line. You have not ended your day of boat race until the sails have been taken down and packed up, the jib and mass are back on land, the sand bags emptied and the boat is either pulled up or tied out. As much as you may see others on the beach celebrating or leaving the party boats, you must finish what you started.

  1. Every boat has an identity of its own

Ultimately, any boat can win a boat race. Even with all other things the same, each race is unpredictable because every boat has its own identity which depends greatly on the subtle differences it possesses with regards to its shape, length and build and, consequent ability to adjust to or accommodate the common conditions of varying prevailing wind and sea conditions.  You may see this reality in a boat’s ability to sail on the north side of Anguilla versus its ability to sail on the southern side. For this reason, some boats may dominate during clement weather while others enjoy strong winds; and, the same applies for short versus longer races.

Boat racing in Anguilla is a challenge worth taking. It incorporates a large range of knowledge and skill and provides one with some important lessons which can be applied to our everyday lives. It is a spectacle on land and sea which clearly shows why this majestic race has survived through the ages. There were plenty of valuable lessons that I learned, but I hope the above ten lessons that I shared add value to your life.

Here’s the Anguilla Boat Race Schedule so you never miss Anguilla’s National Sport!

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