Grand Bahama News

Annual BASRA Marathon Swim Race a maybe, but no beach party

Plans are underway for a resumption of the long-running Bernie Butler BASRA Marathon Swim Race on Grand Bahama, but there won’t be an accompanying beach party.

“There will not be a beach party this year because BASRA is in the midst of reorganizing its operation and a new board of directors is being formed,” said BASRA spokesman Captain d’Von Archer.

“The event does take a lot of voluntary organizing and although more relaxed now, we feel it wise to adhere to the COVID restrictions and recommended advice against holding large gatherings for this year and look forward to celebrating the 50th anniversary of the event next year.”

Bahamas Air Sea Rescue Association Grand Bahama was established in 1960 and for 50 years hosted one of GB’s most popular summer events, the Bernie Butler Marathon Swim Race. It was held annually on the third week in August until the race became a victim of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Freeport resident Robbie Butler said his family was involved from the start.

“The first swim was in 1971 and my father was one of the organizers,” Butler said.

“I took part a record 49 times and was picked to represent The Bahamas in the Olympics in 1980. In 1989, the swim was renamed the Bernie Butler Marathon Swim Race as a tribute to my father, who died that year.”

Butler told Grand Bahama News, “Myself and a group of keen swimmers are hoping to organize just the swim race (without the party) sometime in September but so far no firm date has been fixed.”

The loss of the annual fundraiser is disappointing for many Grand Bahamians who are still climbing back from Hurricane Dorian and the impact of the pandemic.

“This was the event of the summer,” said Kay Hardy, former master of ceremonies for over 30 BASRA events.

“Each year, summer ended with this great party on the beach, former residents returned to the event each year and we all look forward to seeing friends, watching the US Coast Guard rescue demonstration and of course raising funds for BASRA.”

The last beach party was held in August 2019, just prior to Dorian. At that event, organizers were able to pull off another successful event but had issues with a second party that was held to the left of the Coral Beach venue.

“My wife and I had to clean up the mess that was left over from the unauthorized event at 6 a.m. the next day,” said Eddie Whan, former BASRA Chairman and current board member. “We’ll get it going again but in the meantime, we are trying to stay afloat ourselves.”

Like many organizations, BASRA Grand Bahama is trying to regroup following the pandemic disruption.

But the volunteers are still continuing to carry out search and rescue missions.

“We continue to be very busy on call-outs and average 15 search and rescue missions every month,” said Archer.

“Some are very serious, some false alarms, and some much more serious like the one recently where a vessel with three men and a dog were reported missing between the Berry Islands and Grand Bahama. They were eventually rescued after a three-day search, after their boat had run out of fuel.”

BASRA also helps in natural disasters.

When Hurricane Dorian hit Grand Bahama, almost 70 percent of the island was covered by a colossal sea surge.

People living miles away from the shore found themselves fighting for their lives as the water covered the ground floors of their homes, causing many to take refuge in the rafters and roofs.

A massive rescue attempt was launched and carried out by local volunteers and BASRA members. Jet skis and small boats were launched from the Casuarina Bridge and hundreds of people were rescued and brought to safety.

At present, BASRA does not own a rescue boat or plane. It relies totally on the generosity of its dedicated members to supply search vessels and vehicles and has a comprehensive list of who and what equipment can be called upon.

BASRA also liaises closely with the Police Marine Division, the Royal Bahamas Defence Force Northern Division on the island and Buckeye, which has a fast rescue vessel. The US Coast Guard is very much involved as is the US Navy.

Apart from the marathon swim, the principal sources of funding for BASRA are corporate donations, membership fees that start at $50 and the sale of BASRA shirts, caps and other apparel.

Grand Bahama News has learned that American retail chain, West Marine, has agreed to carry BASRA information and BASRA merchandise in its stores to help promote and support boating in The Bahamas.

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