Cayman’s Popular Easter Regatta Continues to Draw Cheering Crowds as it Did Decades Ago.
Turquoise Caribbean Sea glistening like diamonds from the sun; waves lapping against wooden vessels in George Town Harbour; winds eagerly beating against canvas sails almost as if to say “Let’s go!” These were the early days of the annual regattas, where up to 20 locally built schooners and catboats raced from George Town Harbour to West Bay’s North West Point — via 12 Mile Bank (a popular fishing spot) — and back to see who had the fastest vessels.
Regattas, introduced in the mid-1930s by Commissioner Allan Wolsey Cardinall, were originally intended to showcase the expert local boatbuilding and sailing skills, and assist in the development of the Islands as a tourism destination. The event, which took place over several days, was later organised by the Cayman Islands Yacht and Sailing Club.
During those early races, the air was always filled with excitement. The masses would gather along the west coast of Grand Cayman to watch the schooners and catboats cruise by, and cheers would ring out for the favourite. The skilled seamanship of Cayman captains and their crews were on full display. What made these regattas unique was that these vessels were not yachts but, instead, commercial vessels — and many of them employed in the turtle industry.
These boats were stunning specimens of the craftsmanship of Cayman shipbuilders. Local shipbuilder Heber Elroy Arch describes a vessel that he built, the Lydia E. Wilson, as the best sailing boat and the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. She was the cup winner of the Caribbean, and according to Mr. Arch, nothing could ever sail as fast as she. Some of the other renowned schooners that participated in the races were the Goldfield, Adams, Arbutus and the Alsons.
On the last evening, activities would often close with a celebratory gala at the George Town Town Hall. Although the early regattas ended with the onset of World War II, the races re-emerged decades later in the form of the present-day Easter Regatta.
Author: Cayman Islands National Archive