31 May 2010

Big South Regatta

The biggest event of the year on South Caicos is, by far, the annual Regatta. People come from all over the TCI and the celebration lasts for four days. It's such a big deal that normally (we were told) the coordinators of the event receive funding from the government to put it on. This year, however, in these hard economic times, no funding was available. Being such an important event though, they went forward with it anyway. The only difference was that it needed to pay for itself. That meant an entrance fee. A $30 entrance fee!


Regrettably, we decided we just couldn't spend that to get in. According to the fliers, we missed out on beauty pageants, live music, food, and other performances. Some other information I found said that, historically, there were also donkey races (that might have been worth the $30!). It's been going on unbroken since 1967 to commemorate the Queen's visit in 1966.

What I was most interested in was the boat race. Which, of course, we were able to see without paying the entrance fee. In fact, we had a really good view of it from the center - the cliff adjacent to the water was excellent for viewing.


It wasn't clear how the race was organized, or if it was held all at once. But boats were zipping around (dangerously close to one another) all day long. Some were just souped up fishing boats, others were dedicated racers, and a couple were multi-engine powerhouses clearly from out of town. We were invited to race our rescue boat, a zodiac, but the acting Center Director decided we couldn't risk damaging it (probably a wise decision!). It seemed that several of the fishermen put a great deal of money into this race - the wisdom of which I couldn't help but question. They were putting their livelihoods on the line for a day of racing. And at least one boat sank! In fact, a couple SFS staffers witnessed it happen. Jessee and I missed it by a couple minutes, but we saw the aftermath.


Three boats were screaming past the SFS dock (recklessly inside of our cordoned-off swimming area) when one crossed the wake of another. At the speed they were going they completely lost control. The boat swerved hard to the right, narrowly missing our moored rescue boat and throwing the passengers into the water. The boat kept going and slammed into the limestone cliff in front of the center. The staff who watched it happen said they were thrown 20 or 30 feet! Had they not fallen from the boat, they very likely would be dead!!!

Sunken Boat

Towing the sunken boat.

Just moments after it happened Jessee and I were walking by and noticed some commotion. We went to the cliff edge and looked down to see a completely submerged fishing boat, a couple people splashing around in the shallow water, a couple other boats looking on, and a lot of shouting. There was debris from the crushed hull floating nearby. One of the interns swam out to see if everybody was okay. She took a look at the boat while she was out there and reported that there was a 4ft gash in the side!

Attempt #2

With a great deal of effort the other boats managed to pull the sunken one up from the bottom and tow it back to the docks. As long as they kept moving it partially floated. The ropes snapped once and it sank again in slightly deeper water, but I'm pretty sure they got it back eventually. This is just about as much excitement as sleepy little South Caicos ever gets. It's no wonder Regatta is such a big deal!

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