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Young sailors stand on the shoulder of a Master and Commander: Charles Bartlett Hyde

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Buttonwood Bay hosts the 95th Baron Bliss Harbour Regatta

HeadlineButtonwood Bay hosts the 95th Baron Bliss Harbour Regatta

Photo: Harbour Regatta sailboat races

by Kristen Ku

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Mar. 14, 2024

Over 30 sailboats lined up to compete in the 95th Annual Baron Bliss Harbor Regatta near the Buttonwood Bay shore in Belize City on Sunday, March 10.

Sailors from as far north as Corozal and as far south as Placencia converged on Buttonwood Bay to compete in the Lasers and Optimist categories; and from mid-south, Gales Point, Manatee, sailors came to compete in the traditional Sailing Dories, otherwise known as Spectacular Sixteens category.

The event also brought out the legendary sailing lighter, called Radio, whose birth date reportedly coincides with the same year the radio was invented. This is the oldest sailboat in Belize.

The event kicked off a little after 10:00 a.m. with competitors as young as 8-years-old sailing their boats along the triangular pattern of markers set out at different locations throughout the harbour.

Under each category, sailors competed in a total of 3 races. The sailor with the most points at the end of each race would then be classified the winner for their category.

The event, financed partially by the government, dates back to 1926, and it is held in honour of Baron Bliss, Belize’s greatest benefactor, who spent his last days of life in his boat, the Sea King II, in the Belize Harbour. The annual Harbour Regatta commemorates his death, on March 9, 1926, with the first Regatta taking place a year later, in 1927.

On Sunday, the winds were promising in the morning, at 12 to 15 miles per hour; but in the afternoon, the winds completely died down, and the strong currents began causing competitors to spend extended hours out on the sea. With no wind to drive the boats, the judges decided to cancel some of the final races, ending off the competition at around 4:00 p.m., with the award ceremony commencing around 4:30 p.m.

“I think that this year’s Regatta was successful despite the winds dying off at the end, but I think we can build on what we saw out there. I feel very energized, and I’m glad to see young people out there,” shared chairman of the Harbour Regatta Committee, Collet “Bunas” Maheia.

In the Laser category, there was only one competitor who won first place, and that was Antonio Ricardez. The other 4 participants in this category included Jasmine Brown, Fredy Garcia, Jelani Williams, and Stafford Eiley.

In the Optimist category, winners included: First place- Andell Zelaya, followed by second place- Jayden Westby, and in third place- George Jackson.

In the Dories category, junior winners included: First place- Kelvin Andrewin, Kareem Smith, and Kieron Usher in their dory named Martin. In second place, winners included Chrsitopher Welch, Kavan Smith and Lloyd Andrewin in their dory named Sandra.

For the senior Dories winners, in first place included Artie Myers, Austin Myers, and Keron Usher in their dory named Martin; while the second-place winners were Leonard Myers, Sr., Kenrich Slusher and Kevin Andrewin, Jr. in their dory named Sandra.

“From I was about 12, I started out sailing, and I always like to take part in these competitions. I have been doing this for 49 years. Today I came in second, and I am not a second-place type of guy; I usually place at the top. I get whipping today, but that’s okay; I feel good,” Leonard Myers, Sr. told me following the event.

Each year, the Harbour Regatta Committee recognizes 5 key figures who have contributed in keeping the tradition and history of the sport alive, and this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award honourees were Charles Bartlett Hyde, Alan Usher, Hilly Martinez, Joseph Waight, and Leonard “Cobo” Myers.

After the exciting day, Maheia said that with almost a century of commemoration, the sport still has a lot to grow, especially in Belize City. “We had sailors coming from Corozal, with the biggest participation coming from Placencia – they brought 14 sailors; Gales Point, Manatee brought 18 sailors; and we only had 2 from Belize City, and that says a lot. We need to recruit new young sailors in Belize City; we need to step up our game,” he said.

The suggestion that the audience number was influenced by the coinciding annual Ruta Maya Belize River Challenge, held from the 8th to the 11th of March, was quickly shot down by Maheia who explained that, “There are people who love paddling, and we have people who love sailing. We cannot compete with that, but we will build our own races.”

The hope for next year is the expansion of financing to facilitate clubs who travel from such a long distance to be able to compete.

Notable figures who attended the event included the Chief Executive Officer at the Ministry of Education, Culture, Science and Technology (MoECST), Dian Maheia; Minister at the MoECST, Hon. Francis Fonseca; and the Governor General, H.E. Froyla Tzalam.

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