Alexandria Meets Carriacou

Cuthbert Snagg. Photo - @JamesLittle3 on Twitter

By David Robinson of Alexandria, A Sailing Community That Cares

(L-R) John Leary, Melody Robinson, David Robinson, Judy Diamond, Cuthbert Snagg, Jim Little. Photo - @JamesLittle3 on Twitter
(L-R) John Leary, Melody Robinson, David Robinson, Judy Diamond, Cuthbert Snagg, Jim Little. Photo – @JamesLittle3 on Twitter

What happens when local sailors from the Washington DC area team up with Carriacou local legend, Cuthbert Snagg, to do good things for the community?  If there is a terrific regatta, a great party, a good cause, and some healthy competition…then $172,000 of fundraising for blood cancer research happens.

On a warm sunny day in September, Cuthbert and sailors from up and down the famous Potomac River came together to sail in the 21st annual Leukemia Cup Regatta, which combines the joy of sailing and the important task of raising money to fight blood cancers like Leukemia, Lymphoma and Myeloma. Over 60 boats were in the race and each was raising money to support the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS).

Because of the wonderful work Cuthbert has done on his island home over the years, he was asked to be a guest at the Regatta activities and share with the assembled group his passion for community involvement. But what he took away from the event was even more profound; not knowing exactly what to expect, he found himself inspired.

As Cuthbert talked with and got to know the sailors and volunteers at the Regatta, he learned that each had a personal connection to or personal involvement with blood cancer. Some had family members or close friends who had succumbed to Leukemia. Others were survivors, who had fought through tough Chemotherapy treatments and had put their cancer in remission. And still others were patients, still undergoing treatments in the hopes that someday, a cure would be found. David was one of these.

For the race, Cuthbert was invited to crew on David Robinson’s sailboat Paradiso, along with his crew Judy Diamond, Jim Little and John Leary. David was diagnosed in 2010 with a rare form of Lymphoma for which there is no known cure. After three years of treatment he had beaten the disease into remission. In an ironic twist of fate, only days before the 2014 Leukemia Cup Regatta was to start, David learned that his remission was to be shortlived and that the lymphoma had returned.

But the man Cuthbert met was not a man defeated by a deadly disease, but rather a compassionate and dedicated individual who was even more energised by his own diagnosis to tackle blood cancers by raising much needed funds for research and scientific discovery. And this same passion and motivation was evident in each of the sailors gathered at the Washington Sailing Marina that day.

Regardless of what their connection to blood cancer was, each participant found their own unique way to raise money to support the LLS. Hosting a backyard barbeque; sponsoring a charity rock concert at a local establishment; setting up online fundraising sites; obtaining sponsorships from local businesses; mail and email campaigns to friends, family and associates; raffle ticket sales; a contest for the most spare change collected; all these ideas and many more were used by the Leukemia Cup Regatta sailors to raise over $172,000 this year, and over $3.2 million since starting the Regatta series 21 years ago.

A great sense of community and wonderful spirit of giving was palpable at the Leukemia Cup.  These feelings of goodness were evident in each person there. Cuthbert believes that events like this could be galvanising and of great value to the people and communities of Carriacou. Having races and events that are about more than glory but instead bring people from all walks of life together with a common community goal… such as finding cures for cancer… would be an energising force, giving each person an opportunity to give back to their community, even if only in small ways. Someday there will be a cure for blood cancer. With attitudes like Cuthbert’s and the sailors of the Leukemia Cup Regatta, someday is today!

Cuthbert Snagg of Carriacou, Starboard Winch Log 9.6.2014. 

Washington Sailing Marina. Potomac River. Alexandria, Virginia. United States. Leukemia Cup Regatta. Wind speed N at 15 mph gusting to 24 mph. Temperature High 83° Low 66°. Precipitation 0.07 in. Sunrise 6:41 am.

“We’re here to have fun,” David said. Everyone said it, in fact. Just like a card game when you can’t tell if people are bluffing. They weren’t. In the end, the truth is we all wanted to win. Have fun, but have fun WINNING.

All the cards were on the table at Marker 7. Everyone wanted to make the turn and cross the finish line first and as we all bore down, there were five boats in the heat of the moment. Ours, the Paradiso, and four others that seemed ready and willing to risk a head-on collision. It was total madness. But I’m getting ahead of the story. Let me begin at the beginning. Across the Potomac I saw two significant things: the Washington Monument and Reagan Airport where my flight arrived in July. Passenger airplanes, helicopters and other small air craft ascended toward flying altitudes every few minutes. Not very noisy, just a beautiful sight in an equally beautiful, clear sky: reds and oranges faded to blue as we were no longer seeing sunrise. The day of the Leukemia Cup was about to begin.

The first person I see is Briana Walsh. She is the regatta organiser—so pleasant and patient. You wouldn’t know she had to organise the boats, sailors, venue, entertainment, volunteers and—yes, coffee. I helped myself to the coffee and a continental breakfast and sat a picnic table on the shore. On the last sip and chew it was time to head for Dock B and find David Robinson, the captain, and his sailing team on Paradiso, a 30 foot monohull sailboat. It’s always the captain’s crew but to make the point of how I was welcomed I feel, I can go so far as to say it was also My Crew. I was on Team Paradiso from the first handshake.

I met David and the rest of the sailing team yesterday evening at the kickoff event. Briana had me introduce myself as a special guest of the regatta and I gave brief remarks about myself, my country and my native island of Carriacou. I let them know that I was racing for more than experience. I was racing for four people in my life who were personally affected by cancer: Alan Stracke, Joe Palmer, Margaret Brooks and my wife, Margaret. Now that I know more about Captain David’s struggle with lymphoma I should say that I was racing for him as well.

People were politely curious about me and how I came to be there, and we talked over food and drinks at the riverside park. Before long someone at the kickoff was handing me a telephone so that I could speak to a friend of his and mine—Dr Carol McIntosh, my counterpart with the Carriacou & Petite Martinique Cancer Society. I am a trustee with the Society and we had recently participated in Globeathon, so it was a great surprise. As they say, No matter where you go—there you are. People find you. Last night got my adrenaline up so high that I hardly slept. I was up and dressed at 5:00 am.

It was finally show time and Captain David called me over to review the specs of the boat, emergency gear and navigation equipment. Then the rest of the crew was called for a brief meeting and he talked about the strategy for the day. One of my favorite guidelines of the day was that his was a No Shouting Boat. “We’re here to have fun.” I already told you how that turned out.

Now is probably a good time to tell you about the dedicated members of Captain David’s racing team. Judy Diamond was assigned the port winch, and Jim Little was our chief tactician. I’ve put it on my list of things to do that I go sailing with him some time soon. I was assigned the starboard winch. The bowman and trimmer, John Leary, is like all of us—a lover of sailing with a wealth of experience on the water. He wore a tri-corner pirate hat after the race. No surprise—he has the personality to pull it off! The only ones who could outdo him were the Scottish crew of Team Tartan. They wore traditional kilts and it was a sight to see them cross the finish line first, heritage proud. By the way, they raised the most funds.

Judy backed us out of the slip and we navigated into the Potomac. Captain David sounded his version of a horn: a mouth piece he blew into. It sounded like a huge duck and I laughed at one fellow on another boat who shouted, “Stop beating that duck!” I had already pulled on my racing gloves so I was ready when I was dispatched to my post. I checked the time. It was 9:25. We made our way through the narrow channel and the Potomac opened before me like an early morning run to the Grenadines from Gun Point. The day was fresh and new. Some lasers were on the water already and I thought of my son, Noah, who would have loved to race with them today. I imagined him in the lead, smiling. We passed the lasers and they were soon behind us.

Ahead there were huge water taxi ferries and the US Coast Guard. Overhead, a chopper observed the assembly of boats. Below, I could see a mud bottom that reminded me of the mangrove in Carriacou. Different water in a different place, but I took Carriacou with me throughout the day. We were soon at the starting line where we met up with lots of boats. There seemed to be about sixty or more. In our racing class there were about ten. Steady breeze on the river. Drinking water. Chatting and making small talk. We relaxed and waited, listening to the radio as the stake boat (here they call it a committee boat) gave the warning and countdown commands to start the races. Five minutes…four minutes…three…one, and we were off!

We ran three separate races during the day. Between races, we watched other racing classes and I hummed the music of The Country Boys, to myself. I gave Captain David one of their CDs that I brought from home and told him about Anslem and the guys in the string band. I think David likes the music more than I expected…turns out he’s a musician as well.

In the final race we had a strong start. I could tell Captain David was happy because with every maneuver he responded, “Well done, guys!” I think we made every tack he called for and never missed a marker. He’s a highly skilled captain and I respect that. We were doing well because his direction was clear and experienced. Most of the time I think we were in the lead—or at least it felt like it.

As we prepared to round the turn at Marker 7 four of the other boats began to crowd us. Unfortunately for them the water was very shallow and three of them went aground and the other ran into the Marker. All of them were disqualified because they started their engines, but they really had no choice. The current was carrying them further into shallow water and they couldn’t maneuver. Dropping anchor would have been fine but starting an engine ended the race for those boats. Paradiso carried the day and made it around the turn in spite of the other boats trying to cut us off.

I have to say that in all my years of sailing I’ve never been in a current that strong on a river. Where I come from the strongest current I’ve felt is on the Atlantic side of Carriacou…but on that river—at that moment—it was almost the same. Amazing.

Race over. Sunset 7:31 pm. We placed second in our class.

We secured our sails and motored back to the marina. The only boats still racing were the lasers. At the marina, we tied the lines then headed over the recreation area with the other sailors. Cold beverages, hot food, live music and lots of people. There was a woman playing the bass guitar and she was kicking it. What a great day to be alive!

On my way back to Richmond I had a couple of hours to think about our regattas back home in Carriacou. The Leukemia Cup Regatta was definitely something to learn from.

  • Radios on our boats would create more order and better communication to, and between, boats (from the stake boat) than our loudspeakers. This is especially important for safety.
  • Racing for a cause, not just for trophies or personal gain (money), engages the entire community and reaches well beyond the sailing community.
  • We should all aspire to having No Shouting Boats. It makes a big difference in the morale of the crew and tactical maneuvering.
  • Improving the regattas would attract the participation of boaters and racers from the region and beyond, a huge opportunity for tourism in Grenada.
  • No matter what…Have fun!

ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS

Captain David Robinson first learned to sail as a teenager on Stone Mountain Lake in a small lateen rigged sailboat that tipped over more than it moved through the water.  After finishing a career in the United States Marine Corps, David again took to the water in sloop rigged keelboats that ranged in size from 27-50 feet and has earned three separate US Sailing certifications.   He is currently the owner of a 1987 Pearson 28-2, Paradiso.

Cuthbert Snagg, MBE is a known seaman, restaurateur, environmentalist and tour guide from the Grenadine island of Carriacou. His first boat was a coconut shell with a grape leaf as a sail. He’s been sailing ever since. He has appeared and been represented in publications, articles and tourism editorials that are concerned with the future of his country, Grenada. He has been ratified as a Member of the British Empire in recognition of his environmental preservation effort.

Jim Little, Race Tactician and Photographer started sailing as a young boy at summer camp in Maine (USA) and to this day calls sailing his top passion. From working as a sailing instructor during college years ago to visiting (at last count) 68 unique islands in the Caribbean by sailboat, Jim is always planning his next adventure out on the water. Like David, Jim also owns a 1986 Pearson 28-2, Ramble On. He and David first met online in a forum dedicated to their brand of sailboat and today are close friends.

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