Putting Anegada on the Map
It’s been 20 years since the first Pusser’s Anegada Race. Marty Halpern, one of the founders of the event, shares what’s changed – and what hasn’t – over the years.
If you’ve been to Anegada in the last couple of years, you’ve been spoiled for choice when it comes to beach bars, restaurants and boutique hotels. Back in the mid-90s, however, the sister island was still more-or-less undiscovered, at least by the yachting community that had already chosen the rest of BVI as their home.
“At that time, 20 years ago, boats were not travelling to Anegada,” said Marty Halpern, longtime BVI resident and captain of the Ruffian. Whether it was to protect vessels and reefs from less experienced navigators or because Anegada is such a long journey compared to the myriad of more central anchorages around the territory, many charter companies discouraged guests from visiting the island.
“There were two or three restaurants, and no navigation markers,” Marty recalled.
But he knew the island had a lot of potential, and so did his friends the Soares family, who run Neptune’s Treasure at Setting Point, and the folks at Sailor’s Ketch in East End, whose stock of local fish is caught from around Anegada. The group cooked up a plan for a fun weekend in the far-flung sister island. It would start with a slightly-to-windward race from East End to Anegada, followed by a break day just for fun on the island, and end with a more competitive downwind pursuit race to the West End Yacht Club’s then home base at the Jolly Roger.
“The primary reason we wanted to do it was to expose everybody in the BVI to Anegada,” Marty said. The race, now known as the Pusser’s Anegada Race, has only changed a little in the years since, and 2016 will be its 20th anniversary.
There were only a handful of boats in the 1996 race (won by Robin Pinfold on Kuralu), but it didn’t take long for the annual fleet to hit 20 boats, then 30, Marty said.
“There are always serious racers in the event, but we set it up so that you could race anything: any boat, any size, any look.” Marty said. This system made different kinds of boats competitive, which in turn brought in “a real cross section of the boating community in Tortola,” he said.
To this day, the West End Yacht Club assigns handicaps to level the playing field among racers and cruisers. For example, a vessel carrying a dinghy with a motor gets points to counter the time they lose by being slower in the water than they would be without them.
And organizers still want to make the race inclusive, rather than exclusive, Marty said. The 20th anniversary race even includes catamaran and powerboat divisions, and will continue to award a range of creative prizes. Previous years have seen awards given not just for best times, but also for most family members on a vessel and liveliest crew.
Early in the race’s history, organizers decided to take advantage of the three-day weekend of Commonwealth Day, a BVI public holiday. This let them hold the first race on Saturday, make Sunday their “fun day,” and to finish the long weekend with the return to Tortola race on Monday.
The fun day has always included activities for adults and kids alike.
“We work on all the activities throughout the year,” Marty said, “We have dinghy racing, a sand castle competition, kite flying and, of course, excursions and sight seeing.”
The event lineup also includes evening activities like the BBQ, drinks and dancing on Saturday and Sunday. In earlier years, the entertainment was provided by the Lounge Lizards, a fungi band that included three US sailors.
After the Pusser’s Anegada Race got established, fun day began to draw comers from Tortola who weren’t participating in the race, but would arrive on a ferry. Day-trippers, many of whom were visiting the sister island for the first time, would join the family-oriented activities and make time to explore on their own.
“We welcome them and give them a schedule of events and send them to taxis if they want to go sightseeing,” Marty said.
It’s also become tradition for teams of horseshoe players from St. John and St. Thomas to charter or bring their own boats to Anegada to compete for a cash-prize. Each year, brackets begin with USVI versus BVI teams, and the games are “very lively, good fun,” Marty said.
Many assume that the race is named for the popular Caribbean cocktail, but it was one year’s weather – and Marty’s love of the old Vaudeville act-turned campfire skit that begins “It was a dark and stormy night when my Nellie ran away” – that actually inspired the name of the race.
Not that it’s without a connection to rum. This year the Dark and Stormy is sponsored by Pusser’s Rum, and the Pusser’s Marina Cay location will serve as the registration spot and the starting point for the race to Anegada on Saturday.
The location just off Beef Island makes the sail to Anegada much easier than it might otherwise be, Marty said, adding that over the years, the course has been simplified.
“We used to send you around The Dogs, so it was a challenge,” he said, adding with a laugh that one particularly rough year, about half of those who registered never arrived in Anegada.
“They just turned around and went home,” he said.
The sail back has gotten a bit easier too. Now, vessels parade past Road Town and into Nanny Cay, which is spacious compared to the crowded waters of Frenchman’s Cay where they used to finish.
“Nanny Cay is ideal because people can sit on the beach and watch everyone come in,” Marty said.
The Pusser’s Anegada Race has also gotten more technologically savvy with the years.