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Puerto Rico’s Mover and Shaker on the Seas

Angel Ayala offers instructive words for those who’d like to achieve success in the realm of regatta director. “If you want people to come to your event, you have to go to theirs. That’s how the friendships are forged.”

These are words the Santurce, Puerto Rico, native has lived by since the days he first cast off on a Sunfish, felt the winds fill his sails and the exhilaration of that new found freedom.

“That’s what I liked about sailing right from start, from when I was eight or nine years old, from when my Naval officer dad first bought me that Sunfish,” Angel says. “I didn’t need a motor to get from one place to another. I loved the water and the beaches and the opportunity to explore under my own power.”

Jose Rodriguez introduced the first Hobie 14s to Puerto Rico in 1966 and Angel was one of the first to buy one. Two years later, at the age of 16, he sailed in the first Hobie 14 Worlds held at Palmas del Mar in Humacao. That event was the seed that sowed young Puerto Rican sailors’ avid interest in beach cats, kick-started a burgeoning fleet along the beach at Isle Verde, and produced world-class champions, such as Enrique “Kike” Figueroa.

Angel attended college in Puerto Rico, and spent holidays, spring breaks and summers sailing out of Fajardo. Club Nautico de Puerto Rico had formed a decade before and was made up of a strong group of American navy men and local Puerto Rican sailors who all banded together around their favorite sport.

“At first it was big displacement boats, those in the 36-foot to 40-foot range were popular, like Dick Doran’s C&C 35, Aurora, and some of Tom Hill’s early Titans,” Angel says. “We’d race in Puerto Rico and around the islands like Rolex and BVI. In fact, the first two Antigua Sailing Weeks back in 1968 and 1969 were won by a Puerto Rican boat, a 39-footer named Enzian.”

By the mid-1970s, the tide had turned in favor of a one-design fleet of Pearson 26s. These, and the prior big boat days, were those in which Angel crewed for some of the best sailors on the island and the Caribbean – Tom Hill, Dick Doran, Antonio Mari, Sr., Judge Enrique Torruellas, Dr. Manny Vita, Al Willis and William Ross. “I learned so much from all of them,” he says.

It was the early 1980s that Angel had a really neat opportunity. “Designer Rob Johnstone brought down his first J/130, hull number one, and had nine of us race it in the Caribbean Ocean Racing Triangle (C.O.R.T.) Series. The boat was named Crystal. We had a lot of fun that year.”

As the 80s progressed, Angel bought a J/105, Breakaway, and competed aboard it in several Caribbean regattas. “In 1996, Michael Serralles brought back two J/80s after Key West Race Week. Four years later I bought mine and named it Sun Bum II,” Angel says. Today, Angel’s son, Alexis, sails aboard as crew, while wife Peggy and daughter Karina often come to watch.

All these years Angel was gaining proficiency on the seas, he was learning another type of know-how on land. “When we wanted to have our first international regatta, it was Domingo Velasco who got the $100,000 dollars together in sponsorship and Bob Fisher who had the contacts to bring down the measurers and judges,” he explains.

The first Copa Velasco was held at Palmas del Mar, then at Isleta Marina, and finally Puerto del Rey by the time it had metamorphosed into the Heineken International Regatta.

Through the years, Angel served first as a director for three years, vice commodore for three years and finally commodore for five years of Club Nautico de Puerto Rico, the international regatta’s host body.

After awhile, says Angel, “Domingo started getting tired and Bob began to delegate. He told me, ‘you have the contacts, get going’. I had a great Board of Directors behind me that helped me to the max, so I took over the reigns of the regatta.”

Angel ended his commodore-ship in 2001, but stayed on as rear commodore. Over the next few years, newer members of CNPR changed the organization’s direction and in early 2005 announced that they would align themselves with Florida and race with a PHRF handicap rather than side with the Caribbean and sail CSA (Caribbean Sailing Association handicap).

“That gave me the open door to start another regatta in Culebra,” Angel says. “I called up my old race committee members and told them we were putting on a new regatta in two months. I have to say, that first year, we pulled it off on donations only.”

The next year, Angel invited Puerto Rico’s native boat class, the Chalanas, as well as publicized the event and doubled participation. This year, he’s launching the new International Regatta Club in Culebra, which will strengthen and swell the regatta’s participation even further.

In the future, Angel personally looks forward to finishing his training and becoming certified as a PRO (professional race officer).

Caribbeanwise, he says, “In the future, we need to more fully represent ourselves. To that end, regatta organizers in the Caribbean are working towards listing our dates on a single website. This way, sailors from the U.S. and Europe can see the schedule and sign-up for multiple events at a time.”

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