Barbados is literally world renowned in the sailing fraternity because of the Mount Gay Rum hats. Back in the good/ not so good old days of 1703 when the Mount Gay Rum Company (not the original name) was started they seemed to produce the best rum in the world. Sailors being sailors would sail across the Atlantic from England and other coastal areas of Europe, to Barbados. As proof of their journey they would purchase a barrel of Barbados Rum to carry back to their home port. This was a very big deal, as can be imagined because it showed your level of seamanship and it meant that you literally ‘went to the other side of the world’! The New World as it was called.
As a result, Mount Gay Rum became closely linked to sailing. Firstly because sailing was the only avenue through which the rum was able to leave distilleries in Barbados and be sold and experienced in markets across the Atlantic, in the mother countries. So basically the sales of Mount Gay Rum, as many other things produced in the Caribbean at the time, literally depended on sailing if they were to be sold on any reasonably sized market. Secondly, as the Mount Gay Rum Company grew, it became even more integrated in sailing. As the years went by, steam ships then motored boats became the more economically viable method of transportation to use so obviously they shifted to using such ships. However because of the already 150 or so years of camaraderie with sailing the bond continued and it even grew.
Sailing over the years turned around quite a lot with regards to its purpose. Originally it was a necessity if you wanted to transport anything from the Old World to the New World and from across all seas. However with all of the great inventions as well as an increase in wealth, sailing became much more of a sport and less of an economic necessity. While it was originally for the elite, the formation of middle classes in many societies enabled many more people to partake. With a growing number of participants the sport expanded.
Mount Gay Rum Distillery maintained their allegiance to sailing and in the mid 1900’s they began to sponsor sailing regattas of high esteem throughout the world. At these regattas they employed a marketing scheme and handed out a very limited number of these little red hats with the name of the regatta, the company logo, the year and a golden map of Barbados. It was intended to be promotional but it became so much more. Initially Mount Gay sponsored 50 sailing competitions worldwide, now they sponsor 150. These regattas however are always those with a certain level of sailing, prestige and competition (and drinking). Not just every other run of the mill regatta gets sponsorship from Mount Gay. Each year a certain (very small) number of the little red caps are manufactured and they are given out to the sailors at the regattas. There are never enough caps. Just for the crew of each boat, that’s it!
A Mount Gay Regatta hat is THE symbol of an established sailor. They represent a level of sailing and they make a clear statement about the person wears it. Once you get a Mount Gay Rum, you don’t stop wearing it. You put a string on it and tie it to your t-shirt, swim suit, whatever as to not lose it during a race by getting blown over the rail. As a result of the constant wear, the sun and the saltwater, they begin to lose colour over time becoming pink. This is altogether a whole different level of prestige. You are basically the salt of the sea! Mostly it’s the old guys and those who sail really frequently over a period of many years (or wear their hat every living day!) who’s turn pink and then lighter and lighter shades of pink. I hope you get just important and big of a deal these things.
Typically people won’t sell these hats. Even if you go to a Mount Gay Regatta every year and have been doing so for the last 15 years, chances are you still have all 15, well the majority of them besides the one or two or three which regrettably flew overboard. More recently though Mount Gay Rum has been giving out cap clips along with the hats so it’s harder for them the blow off.
Most likely, the thought of selling one of these hats would never cross your mind, however, if someone was to do so they would make an easy $75 USD for the right one. The price is usually around $40 plus US, that’s more than a handle of the rum itself. If you look online, ebay ect. you would see them for sale. New ones are worth the least unless it was from a special occasion such as the 300 years anniversary. The really old ones that haven’t been worn much go for the best prices.
Occasionally, some loving parent would send their kid to the sailing summer camp that I coached at with one; most were misplaced then found on clean up duty when the camp ended. Those hats would be worth gold amongst the camp coaches. The best sailors and oldest would get them (you had to be both, not one or the other). I surely wasn’t the best and I was a good four to five years younger than all the other coaches so I never got one. That’s where the ‘fire’ started; after that I was constantly trying to get onto a team that was going to one of the Mount Gay Regattas in the Caribbean.
After six years of seriously waiting I got my first in 2012 and it was honestly one the happiest days of my life. Racing and getting that hat is to today my greatest personal achievement. It was extra awesome because I got it in Barbados (the hometown) when I came to compete in the Mount Gay Rum Regatta 2012 and we WON the regatta!!!! It was a really exhausting and trying week; sailing skills and ability were always being tested. It was one of the most intense regattas I’ve been to but at the same time the spirit of sailing was so strong and present that it was a great time. Everyone on the team knew what a big deal it was for me finally getting one, besides one guy they all had already, and they had a mini presentation ceremony. It was so good! I tied a piece of cord to my hat and then to my shirt everyday to ensure I didn’t lose it.
Getting that one made me so proud like I finally reached somewhere significant in the sport. Then earlier this year, I once again ditched school and sailed up to a regatta in Grenada, then sailed across to Bequia (both islands, Bequia is part of St. Vincent and the Grenadines) to relax and watch the competition going on there, the Mount Gay Bequia Easter Regatta 2013. We relaxed for one day but a boat full of eight highly competitive sailors couldn’t take it. Although our racing sails were still on order and the boat was in cruising not racing mode (In other words we had a whole thousand plus, extra pounds of weight in household items.) the boat was not in its ultimate racing state but we felt the need to be part of the regatta. We had to compete. Unexpectedly I got my second Mount Gay Regatta hat! I got two in less than 12 months!! We did the Round Bequia Race and completing with busted ropes, broken halyards and a plethora of minor accidents, we dominated! We won first place yet again.
Hundreds of years of sailing and history are now represented by these hats. They are symbols of the art of sailing and of Barbados. So the next time you make your way down to the local yacht club be sure to look out for the little red hat!