While it wasn't by design, the Carlos Aguilar Match Race not only showcases the US Virgin Islands as a terrific sailing venue, it coincidentally has put two generations of local sailors in the limelight.
Taylor Canfield, who is now a senior at Boston College, won the inaugural event in 2008. In last year's final he took on his childhood sailing hero and mentor, Peter Holmberg and Holmberg's perennial crew of Ben Beer, Maurice Kurg and Morgan Avery. In a few short years, Canfield has risen from Optimist sailor, to winner of the US High School Championships as a member of the Antilles High School Team, to Collegiate All American. He is ranked 31st in ISAF's World Match Racing standings and is a force to be reckoned with during the 3rd Annual Carlos Aguilar Match Race on the waters of Charlotte Amalie in St. Thomas.
It's only fitting that a young sailor from St. Thomas, whose mentors include the regatta namesake Carlos Aguilar and Peter Holmberg, factors so prominently into the regatta each and every year. Canfield was one of the junior sailors whom Carlos Aguilar coached and chaperoned at major international regattas. Aguilar also religiously included Canfield among his regular crew. He had so much confidence in Canfield that he turned the helm of his IC 24 over to him. It was a rite of passage.
Says Canfield, who sports the Ulysse Nardin watch that he won at the inaugural event, "I knew Carlos really well and it was cool growing up in St. Thomas and watching Peter make it in the big time. They were huge mentors for me as a Virgin Islands sailor. I was fortunate enough to travel with Peter to Bermuda where he competed in the Bermuda Gold Cup while I raced in the Junior Gold Cup in Optimists."
As an adult, Canfield has tremendous respect for Holmberg, but that doesn't mean that he quakes at the thought of competing against him. "I have been fortunate to have been able to train and practice at the Chicago Match Race Center and to compete in a number of the US match racing events," said Canfield, who won the trifecta of US Match Racing events this summer. He qualified to compete in the Bermuda Gold Cup, his first Grade 1 event on the World Match Racing Tour this October. Says Canfield, who is fresh off an exciting Collegiate Sloop Championship that was run as a match race event for the first time, "I can't wait to get revenge against Peter. I've had a lot more practice this year, so I hope not to make the same mistakes that I made against him in last year's final."
As for Holmberg's respect for Canfield, "I am really pleased to see Taylor focusing, and excelling, at match racing. He emerged with several other top sailors from the STYC sailing program, but seems to have chosen this form of racing to concentrate on. I think it's a wise decision, not just because match racing improves all your sailing skills, but also because it offers him a distinct path to professional sailing."
Holmberg continued, "Taylor is showing a real knack for match racing, and is having a great year in 2010. His recent result of making it to the quarterfinals in Bermuda was huge. He pushed us very hard at the finals last year in the Ulysse Nardin Carlos regatta here in St. Thomas, and I am sure he will be even harder to beat this year. I look forward to sailing against him this year at the event, which is one of the best match race events in the world."
Carlos Aguilar Match December 2-5. info: carlosmatchrace.com
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 2008 Sports Information Specialist for sailing at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.