Thirty-five years ago Puerto Rico's Jaime Torres watched his father win a highly-coveted Rolex watch. The elder Torres earned this prize by driving his Swan 44 Jibaro to the top of the fleet in St. Thomas' International Rolex Regatta. This year, Torres was only five points shy of repeating his father's feat, and he is determined to do so next year as he gets back into big boat racing after a long, successful and continuing career in windsurfing, kite-boarding and other recreational board sports.
"I've been around the water all my life – surfing, windsurfing and sailing," says Torres, who was born and raised in San Juan. "Sailing especially is a sport that I find few ever get out of once they've started. It's just incredible to be able to harness the energy of the wind and sea and convert it into raw speed."
Torres life-changing entry into sailing happened in 1974, at the age of 12, when he, his father and crew delivered Jibaro to San Juan from Annapolis. He spent the next four to five years racing with his father and manning the foredeck in regattas such as Rolex, the BVI Spring Regatta and Antigua Sailing Week. He then left the island to attend Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island.
"This is when I gave up big boat sailing and started concentrating on windsurfing," Torres tells. "Windsurfing was exploding as a sport in the early 80s. I liked it because I could do it on my own."
Torres spent college summers working for Jasper & Bailey Sailmakers with Nick Bailey in St. Thomas and then Aaron Jasper in Newport, Rhode Island. He was in Newport the day the U.S. lost the Americas Cup to Australia and can still remember the reverberations this made throughout the sailing community. He was also right on the spot when the Australian yacht was lifted out of the water to reveal its controversial 'winged' keel.
After graduating with a degree in yacht design, Torres headed west where he worked in a Neil Pryde windsurfing shop in Maui, Hawaii. He moved back to Puerto Rico the next year, but windsurfing dominated his life for the next 15 years.
"I opened a sail repair business right between Isla Verde and the Condado," he says, of the start of Vela Uno. "It developed into a small windsurfing retail shop and it's grown from there into a big little business."
In 1998, Torres traveled back to Hawaii for a windsurfing competition and saw kite-boarding for the first time. The high-energy sport so captivated his interested that he brought a kite back with him.
"All my friends laughed at me and told me it would never take off," he says. "But today, one of my claims to fame is bringing kite-boarding to Puerto Rico."
Five years ago he ventured back to big boat sailing when Tom Hill asked Torres to join the crew on Titan. He spent a year racing in such high-profile events such as Block Island Race Week and Antigua Sailing Week and loved it.
"It showed me how much I missed driving," he says.
Torres originally bought his Beneteau First 40 Smile & Wave as part of a fractional ownership program. However, he says, "fractional ownership is good for cruising, but not for racing. You want to have consistent crew for each regatta."
It was just last year when Torres recruited a number of friends, some with sailing experience and others without, and created a dedicated training program designed to make the team competitive on the spring regatta circuit.
"I told my friends I would teach them how to sail and race if in turn they promised to make time to practice and sail the regattas," he says. "We practiced five times per month and I had a professional sailmaker and bow guy come down to do the training."
The practice has paid off. Smile & Wave finished sixth in class in their first outing at the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta and second in class at the St. Croix Hospice Regatta, Puerto Rico Heineken International Regatta and International Rolex Regatta.
"My father sails with us when he can and loves it," Torres says. "He's been such an enabler to me in this sport."
In the future, Torres plans to be one of the mover and shakers to re-vitalize yacht racing in Puerto Rico.
"I want my five-year-old daughter to grow up in a sailing atmosphere like I did," he says.
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.