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A Fresh Breeze

One Design project to resurrect the venerable Caicos Sloop.

By David Douglas ~ Photos By Marta Morton

“You can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been.”

This summer, the Caicos Sloop One Design team and the TCI Sailing Association will embark on a novel boat-building project based at the TCISA headquarters in The Bight Park, Providenciales. The intention is to build five identical 17-foot Caicos Sloops from a traditional plank-on-frame design but utilizing modern methods and materials. These boats will be used to teach traditional boat-building, sailing and racing skills to the general public and to visitors.

Blue Hills, Providenciales, was an important settlement for the construction of many a Caicos Sloop.

Few local cultural icons are more authentically “TCI” than the Caicos Sloop. These small, handcrafted sailboats were the mainstay of transport, trade and fishing in the Turks & Caicos Islands until the advent of the power boat in the latter 1900s.
At the height of the Caicos Sloop era, more than 100 boat builders were found across the main inhabited islands in the Turks & Caicos. Primarily because of the availability of larger trees, North Caicos, Middle Caicos and Providenciales supported the greatest number of builders.
Although Caicos Sloops were trading well into the 1970s, they have been replaced by power boats. In fact, the sailboat has almost entirely been replaced by the power boat in the Caribbean as a vessel for commerce and industry. Small fiberglass and wooden skiffs with outboard motors are now the primary workhorses for the small-scale fishing industry in the Turks & Caicos. For trade and transport, larger steel vessels are now the standard.
Along with the Caicos Sloops themselves, the knowledge and skills required to build and operate the vessels, once passed down from generation to generation, have also faded. The 2016 documentary “Vanishing Sail” (trailer: https://vimeo.com/134722055) follows the strikingly familiar narrative of the demise of the Carriacou Sloop in the Grenadines. The continual loss of the traditional work boats (and the skills to build them) is a problem that most Caribbean countries, including the TCI, must now contend with. Today, only a few Caicos Sloop builders remain.
As the Turks & Caicos Islands continue development at a rapid pace, the TCI Sailing Association believes it is important to remember the resourcefulness and shared sense of community of the Turks & Caicos Islanders who laid the foundations. The Caicos Sloop One Design Project is intended to pay homage to the Caicos Sloop and sloop builders and sailors. The mission is to preserve, honour and enhance the heritage of the Caicos Sloop and to inspire a new generation of sloop craftsmen and sailors in the Turks & Caicos Islands.
The traditions of boat-building were critically important to the livelihood of Turks & Caicos Islanders all the way through the early 1980s. Locally built boats were the backbone of the TCI economy. Smaller boats were used to harvest fish, lobster and conch and larger boats traded primarily dried conch with neighbouring countries, especially Haiti. A fisherman with crew could hook and process over 1,000 conch in a day. Those conch were consolidated into a large cargo of dried conch and sailed overseas on Caicos Sloops where they were traded for durable goods.

The South Caicos Regatta has been a time-honoured celebration that commemorates Queen Elizabeth’s visit to South Caicos in 1966.

Boats also moved people and goods throughout the Islands, and for many years were the only way to travel between Islands. The Caicos Sloop One Design project’s purpose is to celebrate the independent spirit of this small island nation by helping to keep the TCI traditions of wooden boat building and sailing alive and thriving.
By early 2019, we plan to have completed five One Design 17-foot (“C” class) Caicos Sloops, built locally along traditional lines but with modern methods and materials. Designed with both tradition and sustainability in mind, they will be versatile and durable—built to stand the test of time.
Each vessel will be built under commission. The current estimate is $18,500 per sloop. This would include a ready-to-sail 17-foot sloop, complete with spars, rigging, sails, graphics and a trailer for storage. Key features include: cedar hull with glass exterior and epoxy interior;
marine ply decks with epoxy and glass; hardwood rub-rail and chafe points; pressure-treated frame and ladder; awlgrip paint, aluminium mast and boom; stainless rig and fasteners; 9-oz Dacron Main and 7-oz Dacron Jib; and a purpose-built aluminium trailer for storage. Owners will have the opportunity to display their logos on the sails and boats, coupled with photo packages that can be used for marketing purposes.
The build project will operate from the proposed Sloop Pavilion in The Bight Park, providing all-comers an opportunity to witness first-hand the building of traditional Turks & Caicos Islands vessels. This has the possibility to become a popular tourist attraction.

This rendition depicts the proposed Caicos Sloop Pavilion in The Bight Park in Providenciales.

The Caicos Sloop One Design Project includes a team with a range of unique skills who share a common passion for the building, sailing and promotion of the Caicos Sloop. This includes Master Boat Builder Goldston Williams. With dozens of local boats to his credit, Gold is one of the few remaining active TCI boat builders. He will be the primary builder of the sloops, and is currently building a 15-foot Caicos Sloop for the TCI National Museum. Having apprenticed in North Caicos under Master Builder Elbert Higgs, Will Gibson will be the primary designer, best known for the Lick Off, the gold standard among “A” Class Caicos Sloops. Elry Lightbourne is the co-founder of the Blue Hills Heritage Sailing Club and is the designer of the proposed “One Design” Sloop Pavilion. Other members of the team include David Douglas, Matt Gorvin and John Ward. In addition to the project team, there is a local network of key suppliers, partners and stakeholders involved in the project.
Goals for the Caicos Sloop One Design Project include:
• Selling the craft on a commission basis to sailing enthusiasts and to grow a sizable fleet.
• Creating a self-sustaining boat building, sailing and racing regimen to demonstrate and teach the skills for all three disciplines.
• Providing vessels, skippers and expertise for current and new regattas, and in so doing help to promote the TCI brand.
• Introducing our boat building and sailing programs as curriculum in all TCI schools, and in so doing, help tell the story from whence we came.
• Establishing a Caicos Sloop Sailing Centre that will, with the support of the TCISA, stand the test of time.
This important National Heritage project will help to perpetuate the art and craft of sloop-building/sailing and showcase TCI boat building as a cornerstone of our culture. A dedicated team from various sectors will ensure that this unique and important program becomes firmly embedded in our community, serving as a clarion call for the preservation of TCI boat-building and sailing heritage.
We welcome all interested parties who would like to join this initiative as a student, apprentice, member, sponsor or most importantly, as a boat owner.

David Douglas was raised as a sailor in the Bahamas and has lived and sailed in the TCI for 30 years. He built the TCI schooner Atabeyra as a trading vessel that, in the 1990s, traded between TCI and Hispaniola. For more information, contact David at (649) 231-0624 or email suntours@tciway.tc.

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Aysha Stephen is Grand Turk’s newest artistic sensation, renowned for her iconic “Cool Donkeys” paintings. Her creations are quite the hit with visitors to TDB Fine Arts Gallery. It recently opened within the Turks & Caicos National Museum on Grand Turk and is dedicated to showcasing art “Made in TCI.

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