Southern Boating

Sunfish Nationals ~ Staniel Cay Hosts Event for First Time in Exumas
Written by: Julie Charles
November 2005

For the first time ever, the Bahamas Sunfish National Championship set sail in the Exuma Islands September 10-11, drawing a record number of sailors to race in the picturesque waters of Staniel Cay. For an area already steeped in the sailing tradition of Bahamian sloop racing, the Sunfish regatta adds valuable experience in one-design racing for local sailors to hone their competitive edge.

The number of boats taking part was nearly double that of the 2004 Nationals held in New Providence. With 31 boats at the start line, this was the largest Bahamas National Championship in 30 years. The event attracted top sailors from Nassua, Staniel Cay, and the nearby Black Point Settlement on Great Guana Cay. Among them was hometown favorite, Nioshi Role, a 16-year-old junior sailing champion from Staniel Cay, who placed a respectable 13th in the highly competitive fleet.

“It was great, but I was a little nervous with so many people watching over me,” says Rolle, who found herself urged on by spectator boats filled with family and friends as she approached the windward mark of the first race. Now a senior high school student in Nassau, Rolle races Snipes at the Royal Nassau Sailing Club, Sunfish at Nassau Yacht Club, and helms Termite, a C class boat in Staniel Cay.

On day one of the regatta, light wind conditions of four to eight knots combined with late-day tidal current, to the advantage of those sailors who had more technical experience from racing at national and international levels.

Dominating the event was Donnie Martinborough, who took top honors with two first-place finishes and one third. Martinborough is a three-time Sunfish World Champion who recently finished fourth at the U.S. Masters Championship in Sarasota, Florida.

Race two was won by Lori Lowe, a snipe sailor out of the Royal Nassau Sailing Club. She crossed the line with a decisive lead over the fleet, eventually earning her eight position overall and top female sailor honors. “If the wind is light, I’m there competitively. If not, forget it,” she had predicted before the regatta.

Unfortunately, the diminishing winds just never picked up, forcing cancellation of a fourth race, which actually drew shouts of relief from the assembly of sun-beaten sailors waiting it out at the start area. After a cloudless, humid afternoon, most were anxious to beach their Sunfish and enjoy a cooling refreshment at Staniel Cay Yacht Club, co-host of the event with the Nassau Yacht Club, which provided race management and organization.

A windless start to day two prompted a postponement and eventual cancellation on shore, where sailors and members of the race committee waited as they looked out over the glassy surface of the Exumas famed crystal clear waters.


 

Left to right: Race chair John Lawrence with regatta winner Donald Martinborough holding the Sunfish Nationals prize, cheered on by David Hocher of Staniel Cay Yacht Club and Captain Tony Gray.

HIGHLIGHTS OF RESULTS
2005 National Sunfish Championship
1st – Donald Martinborough
2nd – Jimmie Lowe
3rd – Dwayne Wallas
4th – Richard Farrington
5th – John Watson Galloway
Top Female – Lori Lowe
Top Male Junior – Benjamin Myers
Top Female Junior – Nioshi Rolle
Most Distinguished – Pedro Wassitsch

Complete race results for the 2005 Bahamas National Sunfish Championship can be found on the Bahamas Sailing Association web site at bahamassailing.org.


 

However, the lack of wind and race cancellations didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the sea-faring locals. They clamored for organizers to bring more Olympic class sailing competition to the Family Islands, drawing on the national passion of racing traditional Bahamian sloops. Experience gained racing on Sunfish and other Olympic class boats is recognized as a way to open opportunities for successful local sailors to compete internationally in one-design regattas.

“We have even more people wanting to sail. We have quite a few Sunfish here and there are even more over in Black Point. But what happened this year is some of the boats weren’t quite ready and some were damaged and needed repair,” said Tony Gray, the goodwill ambassador of Staniel Cay who also raced in the event. Gray is the son of one of the finest skippers in the Bahamas, Rolly Gray, a fixture in the Family Island Regatta in George Town, Exuma since its inception in 1954.

Finishing in the top five among the Exuma sailors in the 2005 National Championship were Leander “Magic” Pinder of Black Point, in 12th place overall, just ahead of Nioshi Rolle, followed by Loan Rolle in 15th position, Clyde Rolle in 21st place, and Uriah “Boyo” Rolle of Staniel Cay.

“Staniel Cay has always had a good racing tradition, from Rolly Gray, and Tidal Wave and the Family Island Regattas,” says David Hocher, owner of the Staniel Cay Yacht Club, founded by his father, Joe Hocher, in the 1960’s. “Rolly Gray really put Staniel Cay on the map in terms of the community sailing tradition. Some of the younger guys have organized the New Year’s Regatta, and then there’s also a cruising regatta,” he says.

The move to change the venue for the Sunfish Nationals was prompted by Bahamas Sailing Association (BSA) executive John Lawrence who, like Hocher, grew up in Staniel Cay. “It was John’s idea. He did all the work to get it here. We figured we’d throw the thing and let people hear about it and present it as a really fun regatta. It’s a first time thing for us, but it is the National Championships of the Bahamas, and there isn’t a Bahamian around here who wouldn’t want to compete,” Hocher explains.
Now having proven itself as an ideal location for dinghy racing, plans are already in the works at Staniel Cay to host another Sunfish Championship and possibly an International Optimist class competition for junior sailors within the next 12 months.

“You could not have asked for a better venue,” says the BSA’s Lawrence, who was the regatta chairman. “The sailing conditions at Staniel are some of the best you will find anywhere. Couple that with the great hospitality of Staniel Cay, and it is a perfect match. The camaraderie at the regatta was excellent and unparalleled as evidences at the numerous social functions that rivaled the racing on the water,” he says.

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