Trellis Bay in Beef Island bustled with yachts, sailors, and the spirit of shared cultural heritage as Polish visitors and Virgin Islands residents came together last Thursday for a ceremony kicking off the 2024 Wagner Sailing Rally.
The rally, which was first held here in 2012, honours Captain Wladek Wagner, who in 1939 became the first Pole to sail around the globe. He and his wife Mabel later settled in Trellis Bay, where they built a shipyard, clubhouse and home and contributed to local projects including the first runway at Beef Island.
The Thursday ceremony, which was organised by the Polish Yachting Association and the Premier’s Office, featured a welcome concert with Polish music and a steel pan band.
It launched three days of sporting fun that included a full moon party on Friday and a wrap-up concert at Foxy’s in Jost Van Dyke on Saturday.
“This is a great gathering of the sailors of North America,” said Michal Poguslawki, a Poland-born, Toronto-based sailor who travelled from Toronto to the VI aboard an 89-foot sailboat. “Some of the guys also sail from Europe. We have boats from London. We have boats from Poland. It’s a tradition, all because of Wagner.”
For Mr. Poguslawki, the rally is a time to meet old friends.
“The people of the BVI are very nice and hospitable, and we’re happy to see so many locals present for the celebration,” he added. “Plus, you have nice weather here, which means great sailing.”
Since the inaugural rally in 2012, the event has been held three more times in Trellis Bay and once in Poland during the Covid-19 pandemic. This year, it drew about 400 sailors and 27 yachts, organisers said.
Among them was event co-organiser Adam Korzeniewski, who said that Mr. Wagner inspired him to accomplish ocean crossings and other trips.
“I would like to accomplish whatever he did,” Mr. Korzeniewski said. “As a sailor, I’ve sailed from Easter Island to Patagonia, and then from Brazil to the Caribbean. In the world of sailing, these are big journeys.”
Also in attendance was sailor, author and Wagner historian Zbigniew Turkiewicz, the lead committee organiser for the rally on behalf of the Wladyslaw Wagner Society, the Polish Canadian Yacht Club “White Sails” of Toronto, and the Zawisza Czarny Yacht Club of Hamilton, Ontario.
Mr. Turkiewicz, who has been a part of the celebrations since their inception, said Mr. Wagner serves as an inspiration to Polish sailors.
“Wagner started in 1932 from Poland,” he said. “It was an absolutely different time as opposed to now.”
During the opening ceremony last Thursday, Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley shared his appreciation for the Polish sailing community.
“Mr. Wagner has undoubtedly contributed greatly to our national economy,” Dr. Wheatley said. “We celebrate the Wagner family and the legacy they established in the Beef Island, Trellis Bay and Bellamy Cay areas, as being key forerunners and giving rise to entities that have made a critical difference in how we as a country define and deliver our tourism product.”
Eighth District Representative Marlon Penn also attended, noting that the event held special significance for him because his grandfather, Obel Penn, was Mr. Wagner’s close friend and collaborator. Between 1949 and 1958, they worked together with others to develop businesses in Trellis Bay, Bellamy Cay, East End and Long Look.
“My grandfather worked very closely with Mr. Wagner on many of his business ventures and his boatyard,” Mr. Penn said. “My grandfather was actually instrumental in the Beef Island airport project. He was actually the foreman who did the work on the first airport built here in Beef Island.”
The legislator added that the sailing rally “means a lot” to his family.
“Mr. Wagner provided opportunities for our family in terms of employment — which, in turn, my grandfather provided opportunities economically for the East End and Long Look community and for us as a family,” he said.
‘All one people’
Shamora Penn-Maduro, who manages Trellis Bay Market Bar & Grill, was one the first people to meet the Polish sailors when they first arrived in the VI in 2011.
Now, she helps coordinate the rally.
“As you know, the BVI is one of the sailing capitals in the world, so this event creates a blend of Pole culture and the BVI community, which is a good thing,” said Ms. Penn-Maduro, who is a granddaughter of Obel Penn.
“It gives us [BVI] a chance to learn about the Pole culture and their love for sailing, and with this event it enhances everything when our cultures combine. This event is about our cultures, the mixture, and how we are all one people. That’s something that I love about this event.”
At age 20, Mr. Wagner left Poland in 1932 and sailed around the world in stages over the next six years.
After that, World War Two prevented him from returning to Poland, and he traveled to England in 1939. There, he met his wife, and the two later came to the VI in 1949.
Mr. Wagner’s achievements were unknown to Poland until many years later, and he spent more than ten years in the VI.
During that time, he assisted in the construction of houses, a harbour seaport, and the first aircraft runway, which eventually became the Beef Island Airport.
He also established boating businesses including the shipyard in Trellis Bay.
This story has been edited to correct an editing error that inaccurately portrayed the chronology of Mr. Wagner’s time in London.