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Old 06-27-2000
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Zack Leonard is on a distinguished road
Optimist Regatta Improves Young Sailors

 
Addison Caproni chases his fellow Optimist sailors to the leeward mark off Cowpet Bay.
 
Joseph Affoo brought his nine-year-old son Alistair all the way from Trinidad to St. Thomas to race in the Scotiabank International Optimist Regatta. For Affoo, opportunities for big-fleet racing are few and far between in Trinidad. His home club has boats that sport wooden spars, and there's little money for newer sailboats. So this Trinidadian has learned that he must make a yearly pilgrimage to St. Thomas if he wants to introduce his young sailors to top-flight international competition.

Founded eight years ago as the brainchild of ISAF International Judge and St. Thomas resident Henry Menin, the Scotiabank International Optimist Regatta came into existence after the St. Thomas Yacht Club purchased a fleet of used Optis. Hoping to attract some off-island competition for the region's young sailors,

 
Menin created the event, and since its inception, it has blossomed, growing in numbers and quality of racers each year. As a result of the regatta's success, more Caribbean island nations have jumped on the Optimist bandwagon and young sailors like Alistair Affoo are getting the opportunity to experience world-class racing relatively close to home.

 
Put almost 80 Optimists on the water and you get an instant floating classroom.
 
It's not much of an exaggeration to say that the Optimist Dinghy revolution is sweeping the world. Each year new communities learn about this little boat and how it can help to teach water skills, boating safety, and sailboat-racing techniques to young people. Designed 52 years ago by Clark Mills in Clearwater, FL, the Optimist Dinghy was envisioned as a waterborne challenger to the then-popular soapbox-derby cars. The boat was designed to be built out of plywood by a parent and child. Simplicity and cost efficiency were high priorities, and the design was an immediate success that was quickly exported to Europe and South America. Today Optimists are built out of fiberglass to strict class guidelines, with more than 300,000 boats active in 105 countries around the globe.

Class rules stipulate that young sailors can compete in the Optimist class until they reach 15 years, then they must move on to other boats. Graduates of the Optimist Dinghy have won hundreds of national, continental, and world championships in every conceivable type of boat, and scores of Olympic sailors have evolved through the class's powerful racing circuit. The international scope of the class gives young sailors the opportunity to travel and meet other young sailors from diverse regions of the world. Certainly the chance to sail in the beautiful waters of the Caribbean was not lost on foreign competitors this year. Sailors from the US, Spain, and England came to play with their South American and Island peers, making this year's Scotiabank International Optimist Regatta the most competitive and international yet.

 
Overcast skies prevail as the competitors maneuver their way around the jibe mark.
 
Friday morning the sailors were greeted with moderate-to-strong winds out of the east. Coupled with a strong, full-moon tidal flow, this created extremely challenging conditions. It was immediately clear that Jaume Tous and Luis Paris of Spain, Marco Texidor of Puerto Rico, and Cy Thompson of St. Thomas would be the competitors to beat. All four sailed very consistently throughout the series. Paris was especially dominant in the windier races, racking up a string of first and seconds that launched him into first place halfway through the event. But a disqualification in Race Six left him vulnerable. Scoring a 13th in the penultimate race dropped Paris to third and left Thompson just three points behind Tous for the lead. Unfortunately, Tous and Paris had to miss the last race to make their flight back to Spain, effectively handing Thompson the victory. In the Green Fleet, St. John native Chutney Molher pulled out a hard fought victory over Katrina Packer of Trinidad, and Stephanie Malanga of St. Croix.

Green Fleet racers are younger, less-experienced sailors who are just beginning their Optimist careers. The Green Fleet has its own start, but these sailors compete on the same racecourse as the older sailors. Offering a lower-impact environment to these youngsters encourages them to keep improving and gives them the achievable goal of moving up to the White, Blue, and Red Fleets. The White, Blue, and Red Fleets each start together. Scores are tabulated for overall winners and for winners within each of the color-dependent age brackets. The result is an event that allows for plenty of winners.

"If all Optimist racing is like the Scotiabank Regatta, then this definitely is fertile ground for young sailors."
Parents and volunteers from the St. Thomas Yacht Club pulled together to run a smooth event that sent almost 80 sailors home smiling. If all Optimist racing is like the Scotiabank Regatta, then this definitely is fertile ground for young sailors. In the past, smaller, younger sailors were herded into unresponsive daysailers. Only the most aggressive kids got to take the helm and the rest didn't get the same opportunity to learn. The Optimist teaches each and every young sailor the basics of sailing and provides a positive environment for them to begin racing. It's hard to beat a combination like that, especially when it brings you to the Caribbean!

The Eternal Optimist

 
Twelve-year-old Thomas Barrows of St. Thomas masters the art of multi-tasking downwind.
 
I was sailing upwind next to my teammate Taylor on the last windward leg of the 2000 Scotiabank Optimist Regatta. We were looking about 10th place and then—wham—a huge right shift came and knocked the wind out of us. The tough part about it was that the right side hadn't paid all week due to the strong adverse current on that side of the course. That's just one example of the tough conditions we experienced at this regatta.

My name is Thomas Barrows, I'm 12 years old, and I come from St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. I've been sailing Optimist Dinghies for five years. This year I raced in my fourth Scotiabank Optimist Regatta. The St. Thomas Yacht Club has been hosting this event for eight years. What began as a small regional event has grown into a really tough event attracting 77 sailors from 11 different countries. This year the competition was at a very high level. The US had a very good sailor, Spain had two great sailors, Puerto Rico was strong, and the Virgin Islands had a really tough team, including the winner of the regatta, Cy Thompson.

This regatta can be a learning experience or a just-for-fun regatta. I consider it a warm-up for the summer, just to get in the mood for racing. For the regatta, my teammates and I practiced twice a week during the spring. A week and a half before the regatta, we had a coach come down and he coached us during the event.

The wind blew from a 10-knot breeze to about 17 knots. The land affected the wind a lot. In some places it would lift you up to the windward mark and in other places it would cause a major hole. At the top of the course the wind wouldn't matter that much because there was such a strong current, but sometimes if you got a 50-degree shift, the current would lift you up the course. That made it very tricky.

The current was a major factor in the mornings of the regatta. It would flow straight through a cut and head right, going straight through the top of the course. The current wouldn't affect the bottom and middle of the course because a point would be blocking the current. In the afternoon, the current wouldn't be a big factor because it wasn't as strong and it benefited both sides equally.

This regatta wasn't the best for me, but it was fun. I came into the last day in seventh, four points behind the sixth-place person. In the second-to-last race I was doing really well and beating the person I needed to beat and then I had an equipment failure and had to retire. In the last race I got smothered at the start and had my worst race. This is all OK though because I still got ninth and won an award.

As a result of this international regatta, the USVI sailors have really improved. My teammates and I worked hard for this regatta. Cy has always practiced really hard and he is really awesome. Addison Caproni has improved and Taylor Canfield has become an excellent racer and a fast light-air sailor.

Optimist sailing really helps to make you a better sailor because this is such a good learning boat. It goes fast, teaches you how to tune your sail, and teaches you how to get your boat up on a plane. I also like Optimist sailing because you get to travel all over the place and meet great people.

—Thomas Barrows



 

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