Family Sailing – A Great Two Generation Sport

Carson Gifford (aft) and his father John Gifford (red cap) race their Melges 24 during the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta. Photo: OceanMedia/Gary Brown

It’s an age-old dilemma. Parents like to share interests with their kids, while kids are naturally wary of something that may seem uncool. Yet a sport like family sailing is something that transcends generations. This is a fact three Caribbean dads have discovered to the mutual delight of their sons and daughters.

“I remember taking my elder daughter, Mei Ling, out on a laser with me when she was around two years old. It was a sheltered area on the northside of the island, but it was a baptism by fire because she remembers us capsizing,” says Antigua’s Bernie Evan-Wong, who since has raced with both Mei Ling and Sarah, both now in their 20s, aboard the Cal 40, Huey Too, Mumm 36, High Tension and most recently the RP 37 Taz, in regattas from Grenada to St. Thomas as well as two RORC Caribbean 600s.

“Real interest in racing with Dad began in earnest about six years ago when both daughters suddenly twigged onto the fact that they were seriously missing out on a bunch of fun and the chance to meet lots of young fun loving like-minded people,” Evan-Wong adds. “It’s great to be able to get an adrenaline rush from something as positive as sailing instead of other alternatives. Regattas are also addictive; lots of positive reinforcement.”

Fourteen-year-old Carson Gifford also started sailing while young, at age six, with his father John Gifford, chair of the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta.

The Gifford’s race their Melges 24 sponsored by Fiji Water. Photo: OceanMedia/Gary Brown
The Gifford’s race their Melges 24 sponsored by Fiji Water. Photo: OceanMedia/Gary Brown

“What really started us sailing together was when I bought a Melges 24 four years ago,” says Gifford, who has raced smaller vessels like RS Visions and Sunfast 20s with his son, most recently winning the Sint Maarten Sailing Federation (SIMSAF) National Lagoon Championships. “At first he sat and complained. Now, he runs the front of the boat and soon he’ll take the tiller because truthfully he’s becoming better than me. Yet that was always the plan: for him to work his way through the positions and take the helm.”

Fourteen-year-old Alejandro Lugo and nine-year-old sister Alejandra got their first taste of sailing with their father, Puerto Rico’s Efrain ‘Fraito’ Lugo, two years ago.

Fraito Lugo and family. Photo: Carlos Lee
Fraito Lugo and family. Photo: Carlos Lee

“The first time I sailed with my children was when we were in the process of training for the 2014 Central American and Caribbean (CAC) Games in 2014. It was something memorable and nostalgic for me at that moment,” says Lugo, who has won gold, silver and bronze medals in the J/24 class at CAC Games over the years. “Last year, I raced the San Sebastian Cup Regatta in San Juan for the first time with my son and we won. We did the same at the Puerto Rico Heineken Regatta in Fajardo. Both times we raced in the IC24, Orion.”

Efrain ‘Fraito’ Lugo (far right) shares a winning moment with son Alejandro
Efrain ‘Fraito’ Lugo (far right) shares a winning moment with son Alejandro

There are challenges in parent-offspring sailing, but much greater opportunities.

“The major challenge in sailing with family is that there can only be one captain. So even if you are a son or daughter, you still must take orders like any other crew. The major reason being that ultimately the captain will be held responsible for his actions right or wrong,” says Evan-Wong. On the other hand, “I personally can say that some of the best, most fun moments of my life have been whilst sailing or racing, and I hope that I have been able to give my children the opportunity to experience the same.”

Bernie Evan-Wong, daughters and crew, on the podium at the Puerto Rico Heineken International Regatta. Photo: Todd VanSickle
Bernie Evan-Wong, daughters and crew, on the podium at the Puerto Rico Heineken International Regatta. Photo: Todd VanSickle

Evan-Wong’s daughter Mei Ling agrees. “It’s the only time we get to spend together and it’s created a legacy that I enjoy being a part of.”

What recommendations do these Dads offer to other parents?

“It’s no different than any other activity you do with your kid. Keep it interesting. Keep it fun. Don’t take the fun out of it by forcing your agenda down their throats. If you’re too pushy or overbearing, you may win the battle but lose the war. That’s important because sailing is a life skill.  Unlike some other sports, you can enjoy it together for many, many years,” says Gifford.

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