Puerto Rico’s Traditional Chalanas

Caribbean regattas are famous for their racing fleets of traditional fishing and working sailboats. Native to Puerto Rico are the high octane Chalanas. Designed over a century ago for the hauling of sugar cane and fishing, these woodened flat-bottomed boats could easily sail up to the beach with their cargo. By the early 1970s Chalanas began racing for fun and today there’s an active racing fleet of about 75 boats. Still backyard built, they range in size from 16’, 20’, 24’, and 28’ – with the 24-footers being the most popular. Per Carlos Marrero, of the Puerto Rico Chalana Association, there are no hard fast rules dictating what a Chalana should be. Constructed of plywood, they are wide boats that narrow at the bottom, have no ballast, use crew on a trapeze, with most flying second hand Melges 24 sails. I had a chance to see just how athletic Chalanas are at the Heineken Culebra International Regatta. With 4 crew on the wire, the biggest guy is stationed closest to the mast with the remaining crew stacked in descending order of size back to the stern. Here’s two boats mixing it up in a gusty 20-knot breeze and 5-foot seas to the windward mark. We couldn’t help but let out a cheer of encouragement as these boats teetered on the edge of exhiliration and disaster.

First of six shots to the mark.

The "Big" guy hikes out.

The rest of the crew follow.

Balanced for speed.

Flat and fast or a whoops moment.


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