05: Cruising: Bahamas
The See-Saw Boats

The See-Saw Boats

We came to Staniel Cay for the pigs but we stay for the festivities leading up to New Years. The people of this place are so warm and welcoming: from Miss Ruth at the island’s new laundromat (where you can enjoy cold beers while cleaning your sheets) to our little friend Vontay who was overjoyed to be Stéphane’s pool partner and in between shots showed off dance moves.

One of the events that was planned was a race on real-live Bahamian sailboats, Tida Wave and Lady Muriel. We signed up for spots as “guest crew” and were then assigned to one of these two boats for one of three different races. Nikki and I were assigned to Tida Wave and Dave to Lady M for race number one; Stéphane got on the Lady Muriel for race number three.

We show up at the dock bright and early on New Year’s Eve day. Crew call is 9:30am but we are there a little early, just in case and also because we’re really excited.
Except, we keep forgetting this thing called Island Time. 9:30am doesn’t really mean 9:30am. It’s more of a suggestion, like, “we’ll start sometime in the mid-to-late morning”. We’re still learning. So, after hanging on the dock for an hour or so, we are handed our crew t-shirts and a skiff picks us up on the dock and takes us out to Tida Wave.

Tida Wave: this boat is unlike any sailboat I’ve ever seen before. It’s very low to the water and its boom is extremely long – so much so that it extends out and beyond the back of the boat. But the real curiosity are these things called “prys” (say it like “pr-eye”): two long pieces of wood that extend from mid-ship beyond the deck out over the water.

These boats are all about human ballast – if it’s windy and the boat is heeling (leaning over), you need bodies on the pry. The more wind, the more bodies go out on the pry. This helps to keep the boat at the optimum angle and at its optimum speed. If the wind slacks off, crew need to move down or off the pry and towards the center of the boat.

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The guest crew listen intently to our skipper as he explains how we need to move on his boat. “When I say, ‘work your weight’, that means you move down the pry and towards the boat. ‘Work the pry’ means I need bodies out on the pry. If the boat comes to you (i.e., it is flattening out in the water), you go to the boat (move down the pry towards the center of the boat)”

Then we sail to the start line and…drop the anchor? Yep – because that’s how you start a race when you’re on a Bahamian race boat.  A man on the committee boat (the race director and people helping with the race are on this powerboat) then shoots off a gun and we’re off! The strongest of the men are pulling up the anchor; others are hoisting the sails while the rest of us figure out if we have to Work our Weight or Work The Pry. And stay low. Always stay low. Because that boom, if it doesn’t knock your head off, will certainly knock you into the water easily enough.

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Tida Wave and Lady Muriel anchored at the start line waiting for the gun.
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Here we go! Raise the anchor!
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Raise the sail!
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Close-up of the prys.


When it’s time to tack (change the direction the boat is going), everyone jumps off the prys, ducks under the boom, and moves the pry to extend it off the other side of the boat. Then we jump back onto the prys. It kind of reminds me of a see-saw.

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Tida Wave rounding the mark in first! Prepare to tack!

We race back and forth to different buoys, bodies piled high on the pry, legs dangling over the water. It’s a battle of balance and weight management: the see-saw boats rise and fall as bodies move up and down the prys.


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Human ballast on the prys!
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Neck and neck nearing the finish!


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Perfect day for a race.
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Tida Wave was in the lead the whole race except where it counted most – at the end! We lost to Lady Muriel by a boat length. There’s Dave waving!



As morning progressed to afternoon, the wind died down and so race number three was called off. Stéphane didn’t get to race on the boats but because he was part of the Lady Muriel guest crew and the Lady M was the winningest of the two sailboats for the day, he did get a champion jacket!

What a special experience. The people of Staniel Cay put all of this together, free of charge, for us cruisers! Thank you, Staniel Cay!!

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