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Florida Sailor Wins Scotiabank Intl Regatta

Fifteen-year-old sailor Alex Sly delivered his dad one heck of a Father’s Day present: an overall win, plus final standing as top sailor in the 13- to 15-year-old Red Fleet trophy, at the Scotiabank International Optimist Regatta (SIOR) sailed out of the St. Thomas Yacht Club June 19-21.

“My strategy was to get good starts and stay consistent,” said the Florida teenager, who never fell lower than third place overall on the scoreboard throughout the three day regatta. “After that,” said Sly, “I just waited until the end to do something.”

That “something” was a come-from-behind win when Sly poured on the boat speed after fellow U.S. sailor, 13-year-old Christopher Williford, who was the top place competitor going into the last race, started that race too early and lost valuable time on the required restart.

“Even so,” said Williford, who also hails from Florida, “I’m still happy. This is my third year coming here and this is the best I’ve finished. It’s my favorite place to sail because there’s always wind.”

Williford ultimately ended third overall, with Guadeloupe’s Arthur Fortune finishing second through the display of some incredible tactics.

“I trained a lot with my coach from France before this regatta,” said Fortune, who also won the 11- to 12-year-old Blue Fleet. “I’m small and there was a lot of wind, so I was pleased with my finish.”

Trinidad’s Abigail Affoo bested the 10- and under White Fleet. “It was fun,” said Affoo, who follows in the footsteps of three older brothers who have competed in this event from its inception.

Finally, it was Juan Diego Vargas of Puerto Rico who topped the beginner Green Fleet. “I feel good for me but bad for beating my friends,” said Vargas, who treated fellow Green Fleeter, seven year-old Savannah Baus, to an ice cream after she scored four first place finishes on the final day and ended the competition in third.

There’s lots of talk about Opti-Moms. There are bumper stickers that read “Opti-Mom,” organizations of Opti-Moms and of course cheering crowds of Optimist mothers at every Opti regatta. There are Opti-Dad’s too, and they were out in force on this weekend celebrated in the U.S. as Father’s Day.

Sacrifice my hammock and steak for my kid’s sailing regatta? “Of course,” said St. Croix Dads Jesse Bergstrom and Skip Hoffman in enthusiastic unison.

“It’s a great way to spend time together,” Hoffman added.

The BVI’s Mike Donovan comes from a power boating background, yet he’s not only supportive of his daughter Mollee’s sailing, he’s the team leader for the BVI Optimist Dinghy Team, traveling to Curacao last summer and the Dominican Republic this summer for the Optimist North American Championships.

“Over a period of time I’ve picked up tips from the coaches about rigging and tactics and I try to pass that on to Mollee,” Donovan said. “It’s something we enjoy together.”

Joe Affoo from Trinidad calls himself an ‘equal opportunity’ Dad. He traveled to St. Thomas to bring his three sons – now age 25, 23 and 18 – to this regatta, and this year brought his 10-year-old daughter, Abigail. “What I like about sailing is the self confidence it gives kids. For me, what I like as a Dad is the quality time that I can spend with them while sailing or simply at the regatta.”

Working, not just watching, is what St. Maarten’s Ruargh Findlay enjoys about helping his son, Rhone, to sail. “We like to participate by helping out, not just spectating,” said Findlay. “That means setting buoys for practice at home. At this regatta, we helped out on one of the mark boats.”

Finally, Ramon Gonzalez from Puerto Rico said, “I’m a power boater, but I used to race sailboats. Today, I like to let the coach take care of coaching my son, Manuel. I myself, as a parent, feel my job is to work on his ‘head,’ build his confidence, help him focus, do his best and most importantly have fun.”

Many Dads got to spend a full week with their kids, as the three-day Sea Star Clinic and one-day Sea Star Team Racing Championships preceded the regatta.

“The clinic was one of the best we had in terms of skill level,” said Agustin “Argy” Resano, the USVI National Team Coach and who headed up both the clinic and team racing. “We had two former South American champions as well as the U.S. Worlds team participating. In addition, we had perfect conditions – winds of eight to 12 knots.”

Thirteen teams of four junior sailors each competed in the 2009 Sea Star Team Racing Championships. At the end of the day, it was Team U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) that emerged victorious.

“In the past, every time we’d lost we’d learn from our mistakes and get better,” said Kyle Brego, one of the champion Team USVI sailors. “This year we had some new team members and practiced a lot. It paid off.”

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