One of the island's all-time winning skippers isn't competing in the Caribbean this season. This doesn't mean that St. Thomas' John Foster has given up sailing. To the contrary, Foster, with son Johnny as crew, has launched his sixth bid for the Summer Olympics in the Star Class.
"When we sailed our Kirby 25, The Good, Bad & Ugly, last season, we felt we had maxed out our efforts in the boat," Foster explains. "We decided we were ready for a change; either a different boat for local Caribbean racing or something else."
That 'something else' proved to be an Olympic campaign, especially when several stars aligned. For example, former The Good, Bad & Ugly crewmember and Netherlands native, Andre Van Den Haspel, was available to coach and coordinate the spring and summer's European circuit of regattas. The father and son's wives got into the spirit by making travel, food and lodging plans. In addition, the opportunity to compete at the highest level of his favorite sport in his native country was also a draw for Foster. The sailing portion of the 2012 Summer Olympics will be held in Weymouth, England.
"What sealed the deal," says Foster, "is that we felt with the joint experience we had from sailing together many years in the Caribbean, and the experience of past Olympic campaigns behind us, that we had a reasonable chance to qualify."
The Fosters aren't leaving anything to chance. They have an ambitious schedule planned right through to December when they hope to earn an Olympic slot at the ISAF Combined World Championship in Perth, Australia. The two kicked-off their campaign in January at the Olympic Class Regatta in Miami, Florida.
"It had been ten years since we actively sailed the Star," says Foster. "We showed up with our old boat and saw that a lot of changes had taken place. For example, we had state-of-the-art Harken blocks ten years ago that weighed 40 to 50 grams. Now, there is all new carbon blocks weighing 15 grams. Another example is that we used clips to fasten the jib to the forestay and now there's a zipper that is more aerodynamically efficient. It's a lot of little things that collectively add up to a
Though Foster has sailed many boats in his lifetime and there are several Olympic classes, his heart is in the Star.
"It's a keel boat so in some respects it feels like The Good, Bad & Ugly upwind," Foster says. "Over 18 knots it planes like a 470 and under 5 knots the huge mainsail allows you to exceed the hull speed."
The Fosters aren't the only ones who swear by the Star. The design celebrates its 100 year anniversary this year. It the oldest Olympic class boat, debuting in 1932, and 2000-plus are actively sailing today. One of these is the brand new Star that the Virgin Islands' sailors had built by Mader in Fisching, Germany. They'll take delivery of the boat in April and embark on a circuit of European regattas. These events will include Semaine Olympique Francais in Hyeres, France; the Delta Lloyd Regatta in Medemblik, Netherlands in May; Kiel Week sailed June 18 – 26th in Germany; the Weymouth and Portland International Regatta in England in July; and finally the European Championships in Dublin, Ireland, in September. Following the European circuit, the boat will be shipped to Australia.
"We chose the ISAF-sponsored events in order to earn points toward a world ranking," says Foster. "This is a stepping-stone for Olympic selection."
This summer's Weymouth regatta, and the subsequent chance to sail in the Olympics there, holds special meaning for Foster. Many years ago he was stationed in Weymouth on an aircraft carrier as a member of the British Royal Navy. Much earlier, and further north in Liverpool and Wales, a five-year-old Foster got his start sailing by helming for the local fishermen who didn't have fuel to run power boats during the War.
"That's when I got a feel for the wind and sailing," Foster says, "and I've been hooked ever since."
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.