Sighting in a Shark Sanctuary

Great Dog is just one island in the BVI that boasts an amazing dive site called The Chimney.  The teen divers on one of our June adventures began exploring The Chimney with a trip through a winding underwater channel blanketed with living sponges and rainbow coral. Sun shined through the chamber from above to reveal a spectacular hammerhead shark!

We usually see nurse sharks in the BVI, and like the nurse sharks, most hammerhead species are considered harmless to humans and they are generally rather small in size. They live twenty to thirty years in the wild. The most interesting anatomical feature is their crazy-looking mallet-shaped head. That head certainly has its advantages, improving the shark’s ability to find prey. First, the distance between its widely spaced eyes makes for a range of vision that exceeds the range that most other sharks have. It’s incredible to think that this shark can see 360 degrees in a vertical plane, meaning everything above and below simultaneously.


This shark is a carnivore and its wide head is packed full of extremely specialized sensory organs that do a great job of scanning for food on the ocean floor. Some of these sensory organs are so sensitive that they can actually detect the electrical fields generated by prey.  That is a huge help when it comes to sweeping the sandy bottom for food. They enjoy eating a variety of fish, squid, octopus, crustaceans, and other sharks, but their favorite meal is a stingray. Catching a stingray is also accomplished using the hammerhead. The shark pins its prey against the ocean floor until it tires, weakens, or goes into shock.  At that point, it’s an easy meal!

Approximately 100 million sharks are killed each year in commercial fisheries. It’s likely that more than half of all sharks and shark-like species are threatened or near-threatened with extinction. Many threatened or near-threatened shark species, including the oceanic, whitetip, scalloped hammerhead, tiger, and Caribbean reef sharks, swim in the waters off the British Virgin Islands. In 2014, the BVI Government took action and established a permanent shark sanctuary throughout its waters prohibiting commercial fishing of all shark and rays species and banning the sale and trade of sharks and shark products.

The Thrill of Yacht Racing

Yacht racing can be one of the most challenging and enjoyable aspects of sailing.  Racing requires absolute teamwork on the part of the crew to achieve smooth boat handling and solid decision-making on the racecourse.



The course in a traditional sailboat race is set with marks that each boat must go around in a specified manner. The most common racecourse is the port triangle, a course incorporating a windward leg followed by two reach legs and another windward leg.  Another course is called windward-leeward, which consists of upwind and downwind legs in succession.


The starting line, usually set perpendicular to the wind, is between a flag on the race committee boat and a mark or pin.  The race committee is in charge of running the race.  The start is signaled by the race committee firing a cannon or horn after a three-, five- or ten-minute countdown.  The object at the start is to have your boat positioned on, but not over, the starting line when the countdown hits zero. Any boat over the line at the time of the start will be considered a premature starter (“over early”) and must turn back to restart the race.


There are two elements to winning a race: boat handling and tactics.  For a team to win a race aboard a large boat, its boat handling skills must be excellent.  All tacks must be quick, and the crew must be able to regain speed coming out of a tack by sheeting in the jib quickly.  The sails must always be trimmed properly to maintain the fastest possible boat speed.  Tactics refer to the strategic choices a crew makes while sailing.  These decisions include: where to cross the starting line, which side of the course will offer the best wind, when to tack or jibe, and how to maneuver around the competition.


The starting line consists of a race committee boat and a starting mark or “pin”.  The race committee usually places itself so that the imaginary line between itself and the pin is perpendicular to the wind.  Such a line insures that all competitors have a fair chance at a good start.  Once in place, the race committee begins a 3-, 5-, or 10-minute starting sequence, using a combination of visual and audio signals.  During the starting sequence, competitors jockey for position on the line with the goal of being on the line with clean air and boat speed at the start.



After the start, sailboat racing becomes a contest to reach the windward mark first.  Competitors try to sail as close to the wind as possible while maintaining boat speed and “clean air” (not blocked or spoiled by a leading boat). The key strategy in upwind sailing is to always sail on the lifted tack.  Since the wind will shift at different times during the windward leg, the lifted tack will change frequently, and the crew that uses the wind shifts to their advantage should reach the windward mark in good position.


As on the upwind leg, wind shifts must also be played while sailing downwind. The strategy for the downwind leg is to be on the favored jibe (the one that points the boat closest to the mark while maintaining boat speed) and to maintain clean air.


In addition to the Right of Way Rule, there are several rules that specifically apply to sailboat racing.  The following summarizes the most commonly applied rules for racing:

  • Starboard over Port
  • Leeward over Winward
  • Overtaken over Overtaking
  • Buoy Room
    The boat with an inside overlap at 2 boat lengths from mark being rounded shall be given room to round the mark by the outside boat.
  • Luffing a boat
    Since the leeward boat has right of way, it may force a windward boat to luff its sails, but must give ample time and opportunity for response.  A leeward boat cannot “luff” a windward boat if windward boat has established “mast abeam” (see below)”
  • Mast Abeam
    The helmsperson of the windward boat can resume its course (is no longer forced to head up) when the boat reaches position where a perpendicular line can be drawn between the helmsperson and the mast of the leeward vessel.  


If yacht A “fouls” yacht B by breaking a rule, yacht B’s only recourse is to file a protest stating the infraction with the race committee after the finish.  If yacht A admits to a wrongdoing at the time of the infraction, she may prevent the possibility of disqualification later by immediately sailing a “720” (two complete circles) and continuing the race.


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