Last year Exodus took part in the very first Bocas del Toro Regatta. We had great fun. Hence our captain registered us for the second edition. In 2019, Kiwi sailor Colin, on the hurricane damaged but revived ‘Parlay Revival’, came up with the idea for a cruisers’ race. He got Bocas marina involved, warmed up the local sailing community, and basically went boat to boat to sell the idea. As Colin had cruising plans for the coming year, he passed the torch to Bocas marina, who hoped to grow this fruitful start into an widely attended international event.
Last year’s hustle, bustle and enthusiasm transpired in 40+ registrations. For the 2020 edition, a website was created, registration fee remained 50 USD in return for a Bocas regatta goodie bag with a ball cap and T-shirt, and a whole bunch of prices ranging from airtickets to Costa Rica to dinner vouchers at the local restaurants. 25 boats registered.
Our usual preparation was somewhat disturbed by a nasty sinus/ flu bug roaming our parts and attacking our captain. We had postponed the hull clean until the week before the race for Exodus to show up at the start with cleanly shaven and super smooth bottoms. That whole week had more wind and waves and poor visibility, which does not help much for hull cleaning! Your writer definitely got in her breath hold exercise, attacking the algae, seagrass, moss, shrimp and barnacle colony under the boat. Our faithful shoal of fish went completely frantic in the four afternoons of working with scrapers, scouring sponges and brooms. And yes, fear not, the heavy duty work was still left at the end of the week for the lesser sniffling captain: prop and rudder, and growth and shells on the keel. Apart from that, the deck was scrubbed clean, and all loose bits and pieces on deck and inside the boat were packed away. Sailbags were unwrapped, sails and sheets checked. By Friday night, Exodus was good to go. Ready to put in a peak performance!
Last year, our friend Doug crewed for us. He is currently consulting on a big building project in South East Asia and couldn’t make it back. We found the needed extra hand in the form of Maria, Gitane’s Lacrosse coach. Maria doesn’t have sailing experience, but is in shape, hands-on, cheerful, resilient and a quick learner.
The immaculate sunrise on Saturday morning held the promise of a stunning day. The Exodus crew awoke bright and early to dust of feathers, polish Exodus’ teeth, comb her hair, and get her zen right. Gitane had been singing and humming ‘we are the champions’ for the past few days. Expectations were high… We fetched Maria at 9am for a proper briefing and a test drive. We lifted anchor, moved closer to the marina in an already jam packed anchorage and dropped off our tender and kayak at Bocas marina (as it is not very practical to tow your dinghy during the race). It was already past 11 when we went for our testdrive and practised a few drills. We quickly realised we shouldn’t go too far as the regatta started at 12pm and our starting time (based on standard calculations for ‘handicaps’) was 12.15. Before we knew it, the morning passed and we found ourselves at the start.
The start line was between the town’s marker buoy and a yellow marker next to the big pirate ship. There was no wind there, which made an awkward start for all the contestants trying to limp forward. The course was the same as last year, 2 rounds of a 3 legged trajectory between Cayo Carenero, Isla Solarte, Isla Cristobal and Isla Colon.
Halfway through the first leg, the wind gently sighed. Downwind sails are never our best. Exodus started out with a depressing 2,6 knot hullspeed, increasing to about 3,5 knots halfway the first leg. It was not as if the catmarans and boats with spinnakers were doing that much better so we just let it be and fiddled with the setting of the mainsail, genoa and so on in an effort to enhance performance.
Once we rounded the first buoy there was a marked improvement: 5,7 knots and going up. We started to overtake predecessors. Sweet! The race had started. Bye, Peter on Maizuri, see you at the bar! Hello Sassafras, the second boat to start. The wind was different than last year or the prevalent direction this time of year, so we had to experiment more with the optimum sail settings, trying to get the best performance out of the main sail. Rounding the second marker was interesting as we had to get the angle just right and tack at the exact moment to get the best angle and straightest line heading for the last mark. When you race you want to find a balance between best wind angle and shortest possible distance, whilst navigating the course and maneuvering the other competitors. As few tacks as possible. No extra zigzags.
Even though Exodus was doing well and gained on the boats that left earlier, the second round had another sluggish start with the downwind sail leg. The South African Meghan and Graham were out there as well, in one of the sailing dinghies they are hand manufacturing in Bocas.
We were waving and being friendly, yet all changed dramatically once we rounded the first marker. The wind had picked up significantly. Our hull speed climbed from 5 to 7 in a jiff. We were cooking. Exodus let it all out and gave all of them a run for their money. Yeeeeehaaaa! Galloping past the slow coaches! Truely in her element.
We approached the second marker in no time and were busy tweaking our sails, computing our best tack point, and overtaking schooner Sassafras when out of nowhere sv Shearwater cut right in front of our nose at full throttle on its way to a head on collision with Sassafras. They narrowly averted shipwrecking each other and the referee’s sailing yacht Aventura that was anchored close to the second marker. Oops, and the ferry is about to cross the last leg of the race, with most of the boats still competing! Races on Exodus are never boring, we can tell you that!
For the last 2 legs of the race we had winds of 20-25 knots, with our full sails out, transpiring in a maintained hull speed of 7 to 7,8 knots, steeply keeled over, with our starboard gunnel touching water most of the time.
Gitane lost interest in the race after the first round and was playing downstairs. She ignored rule number 2 for sailing (always have the net over your toy boxes) and got severely distressed when all the books, playmobils, art materials, cushions and bedding came tumbling down in an unstoppable avalanche. She cowered into a corner and cried, not because she was scared, but with the foreboding that she would have to pick up all the toys and mess.
The captain set our angle perfect to finish between the marker buoy and the pirate boat. Exodus approached the finish at full steam, throwing in a last sprint, still heavily listed to starboard. The catamaran Ocean Mandalay was approaching the finish on motor from the opposite direction and did not seem intend on giving way. Instructions for the finish were imparted upon the weary and psyched Exodus crew by the captain. We would have to be fast to furl the genoa and bring down the main as to gain control in confined space. As we are busy with that, Gitane mentioned our name was called on the radio, but there were not enough hands or time to do much about that. As we were struggling to get the genoa furled, it became clear we passed the marker buoy on the wrong side. The rules changed as compared to last year!!! This was probably mentioned at the captain’s briefing, but our hearing impaired captain missed it completely. We checked, and indeed, it was somewhere on the information sheet in obtuse language. Anyway, what is done is done. Exodus put in a great performance but we got ourselves disqualified at the finish…
With ripped hands and a deflated ego, we cussed our way back to the anchorage, had some lunch and a beer. Last year we really got caught up in the adrenaline fuzz out, the buzz and festive atmosphere, and way too many beers. This year, we planned on being responsible parents and ‘braai een lekker hoendertjie, of twee’ in the comfort of our own boat before venturing out to the awards ceremony. In contrast to last year, nobody knew when the ceremony would take place nor was it announced anywhere… Last year it only started after dark, so we reckoned arriving at 6 would grant us sufficient time… We reckoned wrong. As we were feasting on our BBQ chicken the music in the marina went quiet and was replaced by an inaudible mumbling on the microphone… Oh oh… After eating our fill, we sped over, only to learn we had missed the whole thing!
Friends informed us we had won a 50 USD voucher for dinner at The Point restaurant on Bastimentos*, where we celebrated a wonderful New Year’s eve, so we were not complaining. Gitane got a pin and sticker, and was over the moon.
*When we finally picked up our price it turned out not to be a dinner voucher, but a zipline canopy tour on Bastimentos for 4 people.
And the winner is…
Exodus was the 9th boat and 5th monohull to cross the finish. We were the 2nd live aboard cruising monohull to finish. Of course, determining your actual position in a regatta is not as simple as checking who crossed the finish line first. Your actual sailing time is recalculated on the base of the handicaps, penalties and so on. Seeing we were marked as ‘did not finish’, our time was not calculated and we cannot give you our actual position. But we were quite happy to have all our cobwebs dusted off and adrenaline pumping.
The winners in our category were all non-cruisers. The number one, Cirque, put in a great performance. Their empty, super light boat (in comparison to the rest) chased past everyone and finished way way ahead of anyone else. They had their tacks figured out to the centimeter. And so did the number 2, the organiser of the race. Do you think setting up the course played a role in them taking tacks effortlessly and perfectly calculated? Number 3 was more than 30 feet taller than most other boats. How strange that they went faster. Duhhhh!
To make the regatta a tad more fair, the racing committee should include handicaps for the extra weight and drag cruisers have. Or make a seperate category for cruisers. Cruisers have a far higher windage with wind generators, solar panels, and all the extras one normally stores in the garage but are now strapped along your house on water. The self contained live aboarders are slowed down with full water and fuel tanks, extra battery packs, spareparts, tools, water maker, and the full contents of a house… Just think of how all the packing space on a cruiser is stuffed to the brim with food, clothes, crockery, dive gear, toys, bicycles, and so on. They can’t really compete with the empty shells of the light weight racers.
Contrary to what others might say (The beauty of Bocas regatta), in our opinion, the true spirit of the Bocas Regatta consists of cruisers playfully competing with each other, balancing between waving at each other and trying to outdo each other, pushing to see how well your floating home house does.
In essence, the Bocas Regatta is a fun race. It is all about cruising boats jam packed with competent and incompetent crew (yes, Sassafras we are talking about your Brazilian crew dressed up for carnival!), families with kids, surfboards and all sort of parafernalia strapped on, checking each other out. The most fun is when the handicaps have been balanced out, and boats are hanging around in clusters, overtaking and being overtaken, stealing eachothers wind and so on.