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Belizean Bliss Lights Up Bright Sailing Future

Sandwiched in between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, with a constant breeze and sheltered waters conditions are ideal for sailing in Belize.

And with a history that goes back over 100 years the conditions have always been perfect for the commercial use of sail for heavy cargo, from the port of Belize City to remote coastal districts before the road network was completed.

Sail boats were classically built from an abundance of mahogany and other woods and were up to 50ft in length. They carried passengers and cargo to coastal and insular communities.

In the early 19th Century British traveler Henry Edward Ernest Victor Bliss, commonly known as Baron Bliss, anchored in Belize and fell in love with the country. After his death in 1926 he left his fortune to the people of Belize on the condition that a sailing regatta was held every year.

Baron Bliss also included in his will that he was to be buried in a granite tomb near the sea, surrounded by an iron fence with a lighthouse built nearby.

The Baron Bliss lighthouse still stands to this day as a memory to the generosity of the man who called Belize his home.

After steam ships, road networks and air travel were introduced there was an evident decline in sailing participation. And after Hurricane Hattie devastated the small recreational sailing community and destroyed the Belize Yacht Club pavilion in 1961 the community never recovered.

Sailing became a minor recreation, kept alive only by the legacy left by Baron Bliss in his annual regatta in which traditional lighters, dories and newer designs continued to participate.

As sailors and crews aged there was little motivation to train new sailors with competing activities attracting youngsters to further decrease interest and participation in recreational sailing.

Now as an increasing number of people respond to the recently inaugurated Belize Sailing Association the value of recreational and competitive sailing in Belize is set on a new path to restore sailing within the nation with the Baron Bliss annual regatta still running to this day.

Spearheaded by Chairman Charles Bartlett Hyde and Secretary Alan Usher, the BzSA has made serious inroads in reinvigorating sailing within Belize since their formation on 17 February 2010. And they have serious aims and goals for the future.

“We are starting with Optimists and we have funds for 26 boats partly thanks to the International Optimist Dinghy Association’s ‘6 for 5’ scheme,” said Usher. “They have not only donated four boats but have also helped us to source them at a very low cost from builder Far East Shanghai.”

“We have a strip of beach reserved on Buttonwood Bay, which is a great place to teach youngsters how to sail as it is a protected basin.

“We have had a launching pad donated but we need a container on the sea shore and we also need to stabilize the land. If all goes well we hope to have the optimists in mid April.”

And it doesn’t stop there for the BzSA as they are thinking forward. “The Optimist South American Championships take place soon and we are hoping to buy some boats left from the regatta and have more international boats to get more people sailing.

“I would also like to look at the possibility of a Regional Central American Championship and involve countries like Nicaragua, Panama and Honduras.

“This would help to hype up sailors skill levels and get them sailing competitively with other sailors in the region. We are looking into pushing it to see how far we can go.”

Usher has retired from full time work and devotes a lot of time to promoting BzSA to the people of Belize and Usher thinks Olympic aspirations could become a reality in years to come.

“We will start the development process young and work our way towards the trajectory we have set ourselves which is to enter the Olympic Games 12 years from now.

“We are looking at the births of children born this year [2011] and we are ear marking them to achieve a gold medal in the Olympic Games.

“It could be a boy, or it could be a girl but it takes a long time to reach that level and so we are looking at around 20 years until we achieve that goal.”

Belizean sailing has come through peril but Baron Bliss Day has literally kept the sailing beacon shining across the Belizean Sea with a reminder of his legacy in the form of a Memorial Lighthouse located at the harbor entrance to Belize City.

Now with the modernization and drive that BzSA brings there is no reason why Belize cannot achieve their goals and continue the sailing legacy that Baron Bliss left behind all those years ago.

Join the International Sailing Federation on Facebook to view some fantastic pictures from the Belize Sailing Association, the Baron Bliss Memoral Lighthouse and much more. For more information about becoming an ISAF Member National Authority, please click here to contact the ISAF Secretariat.

Source: Internation Sailing Federation

Related link: Optimist Dinghy Club on the Works for San Pedro

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