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Bill Canfield – Taking Pride in St. Thomas Yacht Club’s Sailing Program

Before Bill Canfield signed on as manager of the St. Thomas Yacht Club he had been involved in every yacht club committee imaginable.  A member since 1975 and a past commodore, Bill has been the club’s manager for the past three years.

Wearing the hat of member, volunteer, past commodore or manager, Bill’s intentions are in the right place. “Sometimes it’s hard to take direction, and sometimes a good compromise works best,” Canfield says. He wants to improve the club and is very proud of its accomplishments. 

Imagine a 350-member club on a 13-mile long by four-mile wide island with a population of approximately 50,000 laying claim to the following:

  • Sponsoring the Antilles High School Sailing Team, which won the US High School National Sailing Championship in its second year as a team.
  • Taking second place in the Smythe and the Bemis during the same year.
  • Claiming two 1st place and two 2nd place finishes at the US Sailing Youth Champs in recent years.
  • Taking a Gold Medal in the Laser at the CAC Games.
  • Winning the North American Laser Championship and the North American 420 Championship in the same year.
  • Winning the US Laser Championship.
  • Having three of its sailors dominate the ranks of US College Sailing with Taylor Canfield a key skipper on the top-ranked college squad in the nation; Thomas Barrows the captain of Yale’s team and claiming the 2008 ICSA Singlehanded Championship; and Cy Thompson winning the 2009 ICSA Singlehanded Championship for his alma mater, Roger Williams.
  • Qualifying one Laser sailor for the 2008 Olympics.
  • Fielding an Optimist team that finished 3rd at the Opti Worlds and 3rd in Team racing at Opti worlds.
  • Placing 2nd at the Optimist Worlds and winning the Optimist South American Championship.

Topping the list of the many factors that Canfield cites for the success St. Thomas Yacht Club’s junior sailing program are making sure the kids have fun sailing, having a great group of role models and fantastic year-round sailing conditions.

For a number of years, Christine Thompson, Shep Barrows and Canfield pushed the junior sailing program along with what Canfield refers to as “the Tom Sawyer approach to sailing – you do it because you love it, not because you have to.”  Canfield is a bit despondent over the growing “coach-oriented approach to sailing.” 

As for the role models, the list is long. “The club is open to all.  The kids know all of the good sailors.  They are great people to emulate.”  Peter Holmberg, the winner of the U.S. Virgin Islands’ only Olympic medal and winning America’s Cup skipper, tops Canfield’s list.  The late Carlos Aguilar says Canfield, “pretty much adopted any junior sailor he found at the Yacht Club.” 

“From Rudy Thompson, one of the first charter boat captains in the islands; Dick Avery who practically invented the bareboat charter industry to Henry Menin – the kids knew and went sailing with them.  They remember sailing with Henry Menin and doing 360s with their spinnakers up.”

One of Canfield’s unsung heroes is Dick Johnson.  As president of the Virgin Islands Sailing Association, Johnson was instrumental in getting ISAF (then IYRU) to accept the Laser as an Olympic class.  “It was great for small countries who couldn’t afford fleets of expensive boats.  Even the smallest countries could have a hope of competing in the Olympics.”  Notes Canfield, the US Virgin Islands has had a sailing team at every Olympics since 1968, except 1984.

Canfield sees a great future for St. Thomas Yacht Club’s crop of college sailors and for Ian Barrows, who has sized out of the Opti and is moving on to the 420 and Laser.  He also applauds his club for continually developing and hosting internationally-acclaimed events such as the first Sunfish World Championships, Rolex International Regatta and the Carlos Aguilar Memorial Match Race Championship.

The junior sailing program has become Bill Canfield’s pride and joy, as it has for other club members.  He beams when he sums it all up. “St. Thomas Yacht Club has produced sailors in the past five years that have accomplished things that no other US yacht club has accomplished. The club has beaten the whole US as a nation on many occasions. The rest of the sailing world has incredibly high respect for these accomplishments.”

Lynn Fitzpatrick’s articles on sailing appear regularly in international publications including AARP The Magazine and Cruising World.  She has been a highly competitive Snipe sailor and was the Sports Information Specialist for sailing at the 2008 Olympics.

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