Two young British Virgin Islands' sailors made trophy-winning waves this year at the Royal Yachting Association's annual 'Sailability Multiclass Regatta' on Rutland Water, in central England. This event is a lead-up to the 2011 Special Olympics World Games in Athens, Greece. The BVI are one of twenty-four Special Olympics programs in the Caribbean, but are the only country with sailors in their quota for the summer games.
The BVI Watersports Centre's Sailability BVI program's three top skippers, Delroy Gordon, Glenford Gordon and Lenford Pope spent four months training hard and raising some $7,000 in funds via a 'Round Tortola' sponsored sail for their first-ever trip to this major regatta when Delroy was diagnosed with a kidney disease that laid him up shoreside for the foreseeable future. With only four weeks left before departure, Glenford and Lenford, who had been training with Delroy, quickly changed tacks. Glen took the helm and Len become the single crew. The young men prepared at the BVI Water Sports Centre (BVISWC) in a Laser 2000, the closest boat available that resembled the larger and faster Laser Stratos they would sail in England.
Alison Knights Bramble, national director for the Sailability Program and principal of the BVIWSC, says, "You would be forgiven for imagining that all this build-up and preparation, while facing a trip to a cold country thousands of miles away, to race in a boat you have never set eyes on, whilst competing at a level not previously attempted, with a fleet much larger than you have ever encountered, would be a daunting task for anyone. Did we mention that these boys have special needs? Both young men have major learning disabilities which prevent 'mainstream' learning techniques being possible. Methods that we take for granted such as, reading, listening to training briefings, or memorizing theories or rules are not possible for these special boys, their boat handling has to come from natural feel and their racing, from the desire to win."
The regatta, sailed under extreme conditions that included driving rain, winds ranging between 12 to 20 knots with major thunder squalls, and temperatures in the high 50s to low 60s, included classes that raced both separately and together on windward/leeward as well as trapezoid courses. The BVI team never started with less than 20 boats on the line and sometimes double that.
"While they only had one other Stratos to beat, which they did in every race but one during the whole weekend, Glen was able to set his sights on the longer keelboats that blazed around the course with crews that became, at times, just a little irritated with the red Stratos dinghy containing two boys dressed in red foul weather gear, hiking hard or flying a spinnaker, threatening to ruin the more sedate sailor's game plan!," says Knights Bramble.
In the end, Glenford and Lenford were not only awarded a first place trophy, but received two RYA Sailability flags, wool hats and sailing gloves.
Sailing isn't all fun, games and recreation for these two young men. Glenford is employed at Horizon Yacht Charters through the BVIWSC's apprenticeship scheme. Lenford is still in school and he hopes this fall to start a day a week work experience with another local charter company.
Yet, the horizon beckons. These two young men will join with eight other Sailability BVI sailors to ensure their place on the Special Olympics BVI team that will compete next June in the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Greece.
"We are the only Caribbean country attending that will be taking sailors," says Knights Bramble. "This in itself is a feat to be proud of. Glenford and Lenford are now leading the other athletes in regular training in both crewed and single handed boats, both 420s and Lasers."
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Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.