Kids sailing Optimist dinghies captivated three-year-old Mollee Donovan as she and her family traveled by ferry between the British Virgin Islands of Tortola and Virgin Gorda. Mom and Dad, Julia and Mike, made a mental note and three years later launched their daughter into the sport of sailing by enrolling her in the summer camp program at the Royal BVI Yacht Club (RBVIYC).
“The two month summer program was fun for Mollee – snorkeling, kayaking, shell collecting, and riding on ribs (inflatable dinghies),” says Julie. “She then showed interest in learning to sail and we signed her up for the fall after-school program—learning the Opti, tying knots, safety—
but she didn’t like it and thought it was scary. But, we bribed her to continue by getting her a rib and she fell for it.” The rest, they say, is history.
Perseverance on Mollee’s part, and great instructors at both the RBVIYC and BVI Watersports Centre, helped her hang in and eventually fall in love with the sport. In fact, it was Mollee who led the Opti sail-through at the BVI Watersports Centre when Britain’s Princess Anne paid a visit to Tortola in 2005. A year later, it was Mollee who took charge of the sailing on a family vacation to the Dominican Republic.
“We stayed at a large resort and tried to rent a sunfish for Mollee and her friend but the staff didn’t want to rent it to us without us paying for lessons,” Julia tells. “So finally, Mollee’s friend who speaks Spanish convinced them that she could sail. So she did and they were amazed because she was so small. She took turns taking us out all day.
“The next day, we went back and the three of us went out again and we went for miles. But on the way back, the wind died and Mollee couldn’t sail back; she kept going backwards. Finally, we made it near to shore and some people along the beach called the watersports operation and they came and towed us back. Mollee thought it was humiliating, but the staff was use to it.”
Today, Mollee practices three times per week—two days after school and all day Saturday. This is no mean feat as she commutes from Virgin Gorda to Tortola, doing her homework on the ferry and arriving home as late as 7 p.m.
One of the highlights of Mollee’s Opti career is the present of an Optimist dinghy on her recent 12th birthday, which she’s fondly named ‘Opti Moll’.
“Last year,” says Julia, “she did a sponsored sail around Tortola on an Open-Bic with a few other kids. The money raised was split between the kids and the other half was donated to Peebles Hospital’s children’s wing. The money Mollee earned from that went to new spars for her Opti.”
Another high point for Mollee has been competing in regattas throughout the Caribbean. She sailed her first Scotiabank International Optimist Regatta four years ago in the beginner Green fleet. Since then, Mollee has raced the Scotiabank Regatta each year and competed in regattas in Puerto Rico, St. Croix and Curacao. Her Dad has traveled with her, serving as the BVI Team Captain.
This summer, Mollee sailed in the Optimist North American Championships in the Dominican Republic. In the next few years, she would like to head into Lasers when she ages out of Optis. What is Mollee’s advice to other kids just beginning Opti sailing?
“Stick with it, even if you don’t like it at first,” Mollee says. “When you get better at sailing, it will be fun. You will get to go to different places and meet lots of interesting people.”
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.