For Jeff Gale of Hope Town, 2018 has been a pinnacle year of moments that will last a lifetime all afforded to him through his passion for the sport of sailing.
He was born in Fort Lauderdale to Dave and Phoebe Gale who were originally from Pelham Manor, New York but had moved to Hope Town in 1954 where they operated Island Marine.
Jeff grew up on Parrot Cay (just off Elbow Cay) since he was two weeks old, attending primary school there, but as there was no high school he attended school in Connecticut while living with family, and would later attend Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida, graduating in 1990. He has worked full time at his family’s business ever since.
It was during his youth in Hope Town that his passion for sailing began and grew.
“I started sailing as a small child with my father on his Sunfish in the Hope Town Sailing Club weekend races and by age seven was trading off captaining and crewing Sunfish with other juniors,” Jeff said.
“We raced against the seniors and didn’t do very well at first but eventually after a lot of practice we got the hang of it and did start winning.”
He said that his early challenges and successes in sailing was a big part of his developing a passion for the sport. “Sailing was pretty much the only sport we had in Hope Town. From early on I found I was good at it and enjoyed it.”
Over the years Jeff raced Sunfish locally, in Nassau, in Florida, and in two World Championships. After high school he would took a year off and worked on several large racing sailboats in the Mediterranean, sailed transatlantic, around the Caribbean, sailed to Bermuda, and to New England.
After college he was able to buy several different fiberglass racing sailboats which he travelled and competed with in the Virgin Islands, The Bahamas, and up and down the U.S. East Coast.
“I started competing in Bahamian sloops at age 11 crewing for Scott Weatherford from Man-O-War on the Rough Waters and then the ‘Abaco Rage’,” he remembers.
“I was one of the group from Hope Town who purchased and resurrected the ‘Abaco Rage’ and was its captain for many years,” he said. “I have been captain of the B-Class sloop ‘Lonesome Dove’ for the past twenty years as well as more recently the C-Class sloop ‘It Ain’t Right.’
Looking back, he said it would be hard to say what his favourite event would have been.
“Sailing the high-tech fiberglass boats in the United States compared to the traditional boats here in the Bahamas are two very different things. Both are very challenging and enjoyable but very different,” he noted.
Jeff said, “If I had to choose one it would probably be winning last year’s National Championship with ‘It Ain’t Right.’ We were the underdogs but came from behind and pulled it out on the last lap of the last race. Very emotional. Very exciting.”
He said that there are several aspects of sailing that he enjoys. “Just sailing around is fun but I really enjoy the racing. In racing there is the challenge of putting a team together, getting a boat put together properly, and figuring out how to make it all work. When you do get it all working, the boat is being pressed to its limits, the crew is all together at their limits, and everything is clicking, it is a tremendous feeling.
“There is also the mental aspect of when racing you can get totally involved for hours at a time with only thinking about the race. There are the tactics of how to deal with the other boats, reading the wind and the weather, navigating around islands and shallows, reading currents, and constantly thinking about adjusting your boat and keeping it going as fast as possible. This can all be very intense and totally engrossing. I enjoy it,” he said.
Unsurprisingly Jeff was inducted into the National Family Island Regatta Hall of Fame at the National Championships in George Town, Exuma in April of this year.
Annually the regatta committee chooses to honour several people who they feel over the years have made lasting contributions to the sport of sloop sailing in the Bahamas.
As captain of the Abaco sloops for over twenty years Jeff Gale was chosen for working to keep the Bahamian traditions of wooden boatbuilding and sailing alive in Abaco as well as bringing a team to the regattas every year and competing at a high level.
“It was a big deal for me personally and very satisfying to be acknowledged for something that I have put an enormous amount of work into but love doing,” he said.
Jeff also contributes as one of the directors for the Hope Town Junior Sailing program where he said “I am not a daily coach but am involved quite a bit behind the scenes.”
“As for passing on the sailing tradition, my biggest effort in the sloops and the fiberglass boats has been to just try and get a boat out in whatever regatta I can and give people the opportunity to come along,” he said. “Some people enjoy it and keep at it. Others don’t but at least the opportunity is there.”
Jeff also sailed in this year’s Regatta Time in Abaco (RTIA), as he has in every previous one for 43 years when he was ten years-old
“I have participated as a kid, a teenager, an adult, and now a slightly older adult. I cannot begin to describe the amount of fun and trouble I have gotten into over the years at RTIA,” he said.
He said “My son Joey and I have been sailing our boat Bent Toe for about seven or eight years now with mixed results. This is the first time we have won the overall sailing together. It meant a lot to me as Joey and his friends were pretty excited and it was something I was part of. I can definitely see them racing RTIA without me in the near future. I would be all for it.”
Jeff added that being the first recipient of the Peter Christie trophy “meant a lot to me. For many years in the 1980s and 90s Peter and I were fierce rivals at every RTIA. Our two boats, Blind Pig and Spindrift, were very even in speed and we were always battling it out. We both eventually got different boats that weren’t so closely matched but over the years Peter and I and our crews became good friends and we had a lot of fun together. That I got to be the first name on the trophy in his honour I thought was fitting and an honour for me.”
He said the thing that keeps him passionate about sailing is that “I truly enjoy the moments when things are really clicking and it’s all heat of the moment but going smoothly.”
“I can’t say that I have that same fire in my belly wanting to win every race but I’m still pretty intense once I’m on the race course,” he said. “The race committee chairman in George Town told me this year that he thought I had another ten years of being really competitive. I hope I have a lot more than that.”
And while he has felt honoured this year for his years of living his passion, he said “s ailing is mostly a team sport but the captain gets all the recognition. I would want to thank everyone who has sailed me. It’s been a pleasure!”