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Resurgence in Laser Sailing

A renaissance in Laser sailing throughout the Virgin Islands
and other Caribbean islands has more sailors
out on the water competing than ever before.

Kim Jones, of Jones Maritime, recaps the impetus for the
resurgence this way: “I believe that having both the men’s
single-handed and women’s single-handed Olympic class events being sailed
in the same hull has launched a whole new movement in performance dinghy
sailing. The fact that the 4.7 rig allows sailors coming out of an Optimist to
compete in an Olympic class hull and cost effectively sail it for the next
10-plus years by merely upgrading the rig is a huge advantage.”

Laser
sailing isn’t new, though. St. Thomas Yacht Club got its first boats back
in the 1970s, says John Holmberg. “In 1976, the club bought six Lasers
from the Bitter End Yacht Club. People sailed the boat, but it didn’t
have a big following at the time. Then in the early 1980s, the Laser got a
boost when Peter (Holmberg) arranged to buy a dozen or so after a regatta.
Peter and I sailed Lasers in the CAC (Central American Caribbean) Games in
1986. He won the silver and I took the bronze medal. Laser sailing was coming
up and up at the time, then it began to taper off.”

On
St. Croix, Jones says, “We grant the
‘fatherhood’ of Laser sailing to Beecher Higby. He arranged for the first set of
seven boats to be delivered back in 1993 or 1994. Unfortunately, most of those boats were sailed by high school or
college aged sailors. When they left for school, so did the competition. Three
years ago, Tim Pitts campaigned for the Olympics and began to do some training
here on island. This brought a whole new level of interest in the sport.
Another ‘newer’ crop of boats was bought. In 2004, the sailing
competition of the Olympics was televised and there he was, Crucian born Tim
Pitts sailing in Greece,
in the Olympics, on a Laser. This seemed to inspire many of the younger set of
sailors on the island. Old boats were located, dusted off and repaired. New
parts were ordered and the racing began.”

Similarly, Emma Paull in Tortola says,
“Laser sailing in the BVI has regrown in
popularity over the last five years. I think it’s because there are
more adults sailing as well as youths and because there are more boats around.
I think this trend will carry on for a couple of years at least, especially as
it is the easiest class for Caribbean
countries to sail in the Olympics.”

This renewed interest in Laser
sailing is evident on many islands.

As of mid-November,
St. Croix had 15 actively competitive Laser sailors.
“We brought in another six boats before Christmas that we are hoping to
use to host professional Laser training clinics,” says Jones.

St. Thomas boasts two of the best junior
Laser sailors in the world, Thomas Barrows and Cy
Thompson. This has inspired several more ‘senior’ Laser sailors to
come out and compete. In addition, the St. Thomas Yacht Club purchased seven
new Lasers to add to their fleet.

Dick Burks has fostered
St. John’s fleet.
Brother and sister, Hugo and Mayumi Roller, are among those coming up through
the ranks in the Laser Radial and 4.7, respectively.

In the BVI, there are two active
fleets. On Tortola, Paull
heads up a program at the Royal BVI Yacht Club and the BVI KATS program
currently owns 14 Lasers that are less than five years old. The other fleet is
at the Bitter End Yacht Club on Virgin Gorda.

Karl James leads Antigua’s
Laser program and has hosted several clinics, while Frits Bus is the driving
force for Laser sailing on St. Maarten.

Jones says, “One of the most
impressive groups rising up through the ranks of international competition is
the Laser sailors from Puerto Rico. This past
summer, supported by their local sailing federation and tourism board, they
sent sailors to every major competition on the map. At the 2005 Laser 4.7
Worlds, for example, two Puerto Rican sailors, Marco Teixidor
and Adrian Hernandez, finished in the top fifteen.”

Jones says, “If this
wave of interest continues to build in the Virgin Islands,
we then have the opportunity to host some major championships. Our conditions
are ideal for international sailors. Hosting major events means an influx of up
to 500 sailors over the course of a month to a chosen destination.”

Further in
the future, St. Croix Laser sailor, Chris Schreiber predicts, “This
resurgence will last for awhile, until the crop of juniors goes off to college.
Then what? We’ll see if the next gang continues to carry the torch. If
the kids are out there, then us old folks will join them – and hopefully
show them a thing or two!”

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