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View From the Pilot House



By admin ~ April 26th, 2011. Filed under: Current Issue.

One of our favorite sights in the Bahamas is of a traditional wooden sailing craft like the one on our cover this month. That painting, by noted artist John Swan, depicts an old-time conch fisherman’s boat. Years ago, we used to pass these sailing workboats, which the locals call “smack boats”, whenever we cruised in the islands. Today, of course, Bahamian fishermen use outboard-powered boats, and there is a solid set of rules governing the commercial fishery. Smack boats have all but gone the way of the dinosaur, except for the occasional Haitian boat and the old, sun-bleached hulls we sometimes find washed up on a beach in the Out Islands.

Bahamian sailing workboats

have all but disappeared.

If you are as nostalgic about traditional Bahamian boats as we are, take a look at artist Wm R. “Bill” Johnson’s book, Bahamian Sailing Craft. You can find it at the Blue Sky Gallery in Marsh Harbour Abaco, which represents him (and on Amazon.com). This amazing, hand-lettered book, which was first published back in the ’70s, has sketches of every part of the Bahamas schooner, smack boat and sailing dinghy.

Above: Bill Johnson’s Bahamian boat “bible”.

Luckily, you can still see wooden sailing dinghies in action at the Bahamas sloop regattas held during the spring and summer. The oldest and most famous takes place in Elizabeth Harbour in Georgetown on Great Exuma. We’ve been to it a half-dozen times over the years in our boat, and it’s always a joyous occasion.


Georgetown’s famous regatta.

People cruise and fly in from all over to watch it. The race’s start is unique: The crews set their anchors on the line and hoist the sails. At the gun, they haul the hook and off they go. The pictures shown here were taken in Elizabeth Harbour back in the ’60s by our friend, Russ Kinne, a fine professional photographer.

Smack boats in the 1960s.

Who knows, with the price of fuel these days, traditional Bahamian sailing craft may make a comeback!

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