Ivan Stuart

This year, which marks 54 unbroken years of championship sloop racing in The Bahamas, Abaco’s Captain Ivan Stuart will be hailed as one of the great skippers of the land, and inducted as a Hall of Fame Skipper.

Day after day when he’s in port in New Providence, Capt Ivan Stuart sits serenely at the bow of his work boat at the Potter’s Cay dock, gazing westwards toward the mouth of Nassau Harbour.

At dockside his crew of workers, supervised by his third son, George, are busy cleaning and selling fish, or preparing the hundreds of conch shells for easy extraction of the fresh and succulent meat inside.

For more than half a century the quiet but purpose—driven Capt. Stuart has been going down to the sea in ships in The Bahamas, through all the changing seasons of the weather making a life for his family with commercial hauls of fish, conch, and crawfish.

Sometimes he and his crew could be out reaping hauls offish or crawfish for long periods, calling the ocean home for up to three weeks, then returning to Nassau to deliver their spoils to waiting clients before setting forth again.

When the fishing of “diving” goal is for conch, the crew will be at sea for “only” four or five days before heading for the temporary home port in Nassau to shuck and to sell.

Essentially, home for Capt. Ivan Stuart is Moore’s Island, Abaco, an island which up through the years has produced not only some of the best and most intrepid of Bahamian skippers, but which since the early part of the first century was the boatbuilding capital of The Bahamas.

He was born at Bluff Point, Abaco on 4 May 1931,and had his early schooling and found his sea legs on the island until he was a “man” at the age of seventeen.

That was when the globe was gripped in the clutches of World War II, and thousands of Bahamian males had been conscripted into the armed forces of the United States of America.

That caused a severe shortage of capable manpower to work ,on the various agricultural farms across the States, and also an employment windfall for some Bahamians, despite the terrible warring circumstances.

Seizing the advantage of the situation ,the Duke of Windsor, who had been Governor of the Bahamian colony since the early stages of the war, had gone to Washington to negotiate for the recruitment of young Bahamians, the vast majority of them males, to work the U.S. farms on a “contact” basis.

The venturesome Ivan Stuart ,at 17, left his home island for Nassau and was recruited by the Labour Department for work on what became known as the “Project” in the United States.

In America, while the war was winding down in Europe and the Far East, he was labouring on farms in the far northwestern U.S. state of Minnesota, helping to harvest corn and peas, achieving a strong work ethic far, far away from his island home.

Yet Ivan Stuart’s sojourn on the Contract in the United States also afforded him an enviable opportunity to observe a wider vista of life and to drink of an unmatched off-island experience other Bahamians were experiencing in places like Florida, the Carolinas, and New York.

That daunting experience would have more than prepare Ivan Stuart for the many challenges he would one day be called to face once the work schedule abroad was completed and he was required, like a man, to contend and conquer back home.

Ivan Stuart did indeed contend and conquer back in The Bahamas, responsibly making a relatively comfortable life for himself and his family, which eventually included five sons and a daughter, all settled in Moore’s island, Abaco.

The sea had been calling Ivan Stuart since his long-ago days in Abaco and he eventually took to serious sloop-sailing, becoming so adept at the skill that he was much sought after by boat owners in search of a winning captain.

Up through the years he has contended in every single regatta in The Bahamas, and when he was nearly 70 years old, he skippered the original sloop, “Courageous” in the A Class race in the 2001 Family Island Regatta, chalking up an impressive first place victory.

That the great and glittering beginning of the winning Capt. Ivan Stuart, and for years afterwards he figured in sloop sailing throughout the islands.

Most outstandingly, over time Capt. Stuart, skillfully piloting  various crafts and expertly directly his crews, has been able  achieve coveted and hotly—contested championships in three of the live racing categories of the National Family Island Regatta in George Town, Exuma.

Without doubt, Capt. Stuart’s most stupendous racing feats has been his ability to capture first place in the A Class divisions of the 1989, 1990, and 1991 Family Island Regattas, sailing the “Cobra”.

All five of Capt. Stuart’s sons have followed in his giant footsteps. All have gone down to the sea in ships, with the commercial objectives of fish, conch, and crawfish — and no doubt with eventual goals of elusive sloop sailing championships.

Such championships are hardly easily earned, but are achieved through hard work, dedication, `commitment to awesome challenges, and through an unwavering spirit to win.

That is the spirit of sloop racing which for more than half a century has driven hardy island seamen, when from labour at sea, to seek refreshment and relaxation still at sea, vying for sailing championships around the islands.

This is, particularly this year, the enduring spirit of Capt. Ivan Stuart, who will add another year to his life in May, but which continues not only to propel him to championship, but which inspires emerging generation of Bahamians to keep alive the skillful art of sloop sailing.

Now in the gentle late afternoon of his long and venturesome life, the unassuming master boatsman, Captain Ivan Stuart, still sits . in quietude on the bow of his work boat, gazing with knowing, memory—filled eyes out at the mouth of Nassau Harbour. s As if he were a stranger to sailing stardom.

Come May 4th this year, where will he spend his 76th birthday. He doesn’t know, he says, then looks again to the mouth of the Harbour and the ocean beyond, smiling wistfully.

Very good chances are that the sea-going champion will, once again, spend that birthday at sea.