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The 9th March sailing regatta and Baron Bliss

FeaturesThe 9th March sailing regatta and Baron Bliss

by Colin Hyde

Today the 9th March holiday is called National Heroes and Benefactors Day, but for generations it was known as Baron Bliss Day, in honor of the baron, Henry Edward Ernest Victor Bliss, who visited our shores in 1926 and left the bulk of his financial assets, over $1million, to our country.

Baron Bliss was in poor health when he came to Belize mid-January 1926, and within two months, on March 9, he died. What a glorious few weeks it must have been! It can’t be on this side of heaven that there is any place more glorious than Belize in January, February, and March. It is on record that most every day he was in the company of Belizean fishermen, who took him out on his yacht, Sea King, fishing and exploring our fascinating and historical reefs.

In his will Baron Bliss ordered that the majority of his funds be used to build or improve important infrastructure and invest in agriculture, and 100 pounds be used for prizes in an annual regatta, a token for the able seamen who had cared for him, shared stories with him as they guided him on his fishing trips. The baron’s gifts were much appreciated. March 9 subsequently became a national holiday, and the most splendid ceremony to honor his memory was the regatta in the Belize City harbor.

Most everyone can play a guitar. And then there are guitar players. Most everyone can sail a boat in light winds. Much higher skills are needed to be competitive when sailing in races, or in winds that whistle through the trees. Sailing a boat rigged to compete is a muscular task. There are no couch potato sailors. You have to be fit, have plenty muscle, healthy tendons and ligaments, and very rough hands to—grip the mainsheet when the sails are full to bursting and the stays are straining; rein in a vessel when it is heeling, and bucking like a wild steed; henkindoala, ride the hiking straps when you are in rough seas.

The golden age of sailboat racing in Belize lasted well over six decades. In that era, highly skilled shipwrights in Sarteneja, Caye Caulker, Belize City, and Gales Point built sleek boats out of our finest timber – mahogany, cedar, and cypress. The majority of the sail boats that were entered in the races were work boats. The fabulous 28-foot sloops – Estrella and Aventurera and others –, their daily task was transporting fishermen from the Hondo to the Sarstoon; and the storied sandlighters, Radio and United and others, transported sand, mainly from Sibun Bar, for yard fill and the construction industry in Belize City.

In days of yore, the races on March 9 were as anticipated as the Cross Country for Belizeans who lived in Sarteneja, Caye Caulker, Belize City, and Gales Point. It was standard for the faster sailboats to go on dock just before race day, where their decks and hulls got a coat of paint, the bottom part caulked and de-barnacled before receiving a fresh coat of protective copper paint. If a boat needed new sails and riggings, the expenditure was made just prior to race day.

Today, the wind has gone from the March 9 regatta, and the sailing “family” in Belize is much saddened to see the glory faded. It is an expensive sport. Today, many fishermen find boats with gas powered engines more efficient for their type of work, and the sand lighters that used to move sand from the mouth of the Sibun have fallen to rot and barnacles. But many fishermen, especially from the Sarteneja area, still use sailboats to reduce fuel costs and to ferry five, six or even seven dories on their week-long conch-diving trips to Turneffe and parts of the Barrier Reef. Bottom line is, the costs involved with taking their craft out of its work schedule to prepare for racing, are not matched by the meager prizes offered for the Baron Bliss Day regatta races.

For Belizeans who associate March 9 with exciting sailboat races, there’s a little envy to see the glory gone to dories racing downstream on the river. Dories are useful vessels, important complements for folk who make their living on the sea and inland waterways. Seamen with sailboats paddle dories to get to their sailboats at their mooring. The honor given to individuals who can paddle dories for hours in the scenic La Ruta Maya is well deserved. But sailors can’t be blamed if they feel it is some kind of sacrilege that a dory race could take prominence on March 9. It’s not out of our character. There are many strange things in Belize. Like our football and our softball becoming doormats in Central America. The baron, for certain, wouldn’t be enthralled.

A remnant of the old sailing fraternity still perseveres. Thanks to the leaders of the Sea Scouts, on the 9th March many little boys and girls, and young men and women will be racing in Buttonwood Bay in sailing dories, in sloops, and in Optimist dinghies. If all goes according to plan, enthusiasts will also get a special treat. It is promised that a refurbished Radio, the storied sand lighter which was already 30 years old when the baron came, will be in full sail on the course, just like in the old days.

Happy March 9th, Baron Bliss Day, National Heroes and Benefactors Day!

Get the redistricting thing done, Braa

It’s a decade or more ago that Brother Jerry Enriquez called out the fact that a few of Belize City’s 10 electoral divisions are small compared to some other divisions in the country. We know the Constitution calls for these divisions to have more or less the same number of voters, to ensure equal representation. There are other factors in play, but the Elections and Boundaries Commission/Department should strive for equality.

Over the years there have been a number of changes to electoral districts. I think it was 1984 that we moved from 18 divisions to 28, and then we moved to 29 after the near deadlock in the 1989 general elections. Thereafter, the number of divisions expanded to 31. A notable redistricting in Belize City was Pickstock crossing over to the south side of the Haulover Creek, to increase its number of voters.

A consistent beef from “out district” Belizeans has been Belize City with its 10 divisions being more equal than the rest of the country. My two cents back then on Brother Jerry’s call was that some “out district” divisions were burgeoning with new Belizean and economic Belizean voters, many who barely knew our country but had gained the full franchise because our leaders were lax with our system. My take was that while Jerry’s call was in sync with the letter of the law, it was artificial and unfair to Belize.

When the call was made again a few years ago, with the BPM in the lead, and with Jerry’s full support, my two cents had changed. New Belizeans and Economic Belizeans who are eligible to vote have had enough time to become one wid the rest a we. That Belize City has resisted isn’t surprising. Long ago, Sedi Elrington taught us about how power behaves. But how, as one Victor Hugo said, do you stop an idea whose time has come?

Once we have the will, this is a cat that is easy to bell. There is no need for all these contortions. Former PMs Said and Dean might be a little embarrassed watching the absorption of the little divisions that catapulted them to the maximum seat; but don’t fret for them, politicians are tough beasts; like London, they can take it. Come on; take the pressure off Ms. Tamai. Henry Charles has to cross the river and face Tracy. And the PUP candidate must face Shyne and his auntie.

The numbers and the geography say Fort George and Albert have to become one, and Queen’s Square and Mesop have to become one. It seems logical that Belmopan and Cayo South go from two to three; and Stann Creek West, Dangriga, and Toledo East become four.

Of course, there are other ways to skin this cat. But I don’t think there’s any that’s more practical.

Urban vs Rural

Taking other factors in play, it cannot be discarded that urban citizens are more cutting edge, more into the governance of a country and its foreign affairs than people who live in rural areas. Rural-ers shouldn’t get uptight, take exception to that, for what are most urban citizens, but rural citizens gone to live in the mean, desperate, urgent streets of a city.

It is natural that urban would be more on the ball, and that’s because when things are bad in a city, people become like ravenous animals. When things bad in the country, we goh da milpa. My comments, of course, are general. I am definitely not saying that people in cities and towns make the right decisions. I am saying that they “feel” things more.

All Belizeans have rural roots, some of us not as deep as others. My ancestral line going back to grandparents lands me in Mullins River, Sittee River, Seine Bight, Belize Rural, and various cayes.

It happens that that infernal Belize City has 41% of the urban citizens in our country. I’ll make this more interesting. The charge for redistricting strictly by number of registered voters is being led by the urban place in Belize with the least number of people. World Population Review says that in 2024 Belize City has 61,461 citizens while PG has 5,205.

Of course, this little exercise would be a tad more relevant if it had considered registered voters. But we’d need some more data from the Elections & Boundaries Department because a number of our electoral districts span both rural and urban.

Okay, that’s a little food for thought. But not for all of us, not those who say, the Constitution says! That document has been changed a number of times since Independence. But I would stay with it here. I’m only pointing out that there are other realities.

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