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Bahamian soiree adds music to the mix

George Town regatta celebrates its 25th year with a music festival for locals and cruisers alike

George Town regatta celebrates its 25th year with a music festival for locals and cruisers alike

The George Town Cruising Regatta in the Bahamas began a quarter-century ago when a group of cruisers who regularly winter in the islands “decided to sail around the harbor.”

Now in its 25th year, the annual event, to be held March 10 to 20, features competitive racing between cruisers who spend winters on the island of Great Exuma and surrounding areas, as well as a busy roster of additional activities such as bocce, golf, tennis, volleyball and children’s games. According to organizers, the event has the familiar appeal of a neighborhood block party as more than 1,000 revelers gather for the festivities.

“The cruising regatta is a low-profile, folksy, laid-back eight to ten days that features some competitive events, but it’s not quite the Heineken race circuit or Antigua Classic boat week,” says regatta chairman John Gilchrist.

The event raised money for another local regatta, the Family Island Regatta, an annual race among locally built sloops.

“The Cruising Regatta has been a huge attraction for the island of Exuma for the past 25 years,” says Charity Armbrister, general manager of the Exuma Tourist Office. “Many of the boaters have been coming for many years and they continue to look forward to the reunion with their cruising friends, as well as the many friends they have made here in Exuma.

“The local community looks forward to having the cruisers here with the same anticipation that they have coming to Exuma,” she adds.

And this year, the festivities have been expanded to commemorate the event’s silver anniversary. Cruisers Bob and Lydia Cronin, along with Gilchrist and the Ministry of Tourism, are organizing the first annual Bahamian Music Festival to cap off the regatta events. The two-day event will be held March 18 and 19.

“We wanted to create an event that everyone can enjoy, so we said let’s create a music event,” says Bob Cronin, who has been wintering in Exuma with his family aboard the 70-foot Delta, Kevalli.

Organizers hope the music festival, along with the regatta, helps bolster George Town’s draw as a yachting and tourist destination. Think of it as a mini-Mardi Gras, but with a hometown appeal, organizers say.

Cronin hopes the regatta becomes a signature event for the local Bahamians as well. Streets will be closed, traditional Bahamian foods and beer will be served, and some of the top bands from throughout the Bahamas will perform at Regatta Park, says Cronin. The concert itself will end with a Junkanoo Rush Out, with Mardi Gras-style music and dance, and featuring elaborate headdresses and festive garb celebrating African heritage. With around 800 year-round residents in George Town, (the capital of the Exumas) the population more than doubles during the winter months as around 400 boats anchor in Elizabeth Harbour. The protected harbor stretches for nearly 10 miles, and offers hundreds of anchorages. While some cruisers who frequent the area are retirees, many of the cruisers are families. They spend mornings home-schooling the kids, and afternoons are spent swimming, diving for lobster or conch, or playing volleyball on the beach.

“We have made so many wonderful, lasting friendships,” says Gilchrest, a Florida resident who cruises to the island in his Lagoon 42 catamaran, Free Bird.

“It’s a different life style, relaxed,” says Cronin, who discovered George Town after experienced cruisers urged him to go to the island 140 miles southeast of Nassau. “This has become an even more attractive destination: Beautiful harbor, pristine water and close relationships with the locals. It’s a nice cultural experience, great music and a lot of fun.”