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Sailing family (from left): Louise Johnson, John Holmberg, Kai Holmberg. Photo: Dean Barnes
Sailing family (from left): Louise Johnson, John Holmberg, Kai Holmberg. Photo: Dean Barnes

Sailing and The Famous Holmberg Family

Sailing is in the blood of St. Thomas’ Holmberg family. In fact, it’s a water sport excelled at and enjoyed by three generations.

Family patriarch and Chicago native Dick Holmberg first visited the Virgin Islands in the 1950s while serving on a submarine in the U.S. Navy. This was the first step of what would ultimately foster a family legacy and a surname recognized in the sailing community literally around the world. Visit number two came a few years later when Holmberg and his bride Louise honeymooned on St. Thomas and decided to make the territory their home.

“Peter and I started sailing on a Sailfish [predates the Sunfish] at Sapphire and eventually our parents would drag us along [behind the boat] and hold the rudder as we sailed back and forth in the bay – and capsized,” explains John Holmberg, Peter’s older brother. “We joined the newly established St. Thomas Yacht Club (STYC) in 1964 and then got a yellow wooden pram for exploring along with two Sunfish and many other small boats.”

The family’s sailing prowess showed itself first in the elder generation. In 1971, Louise, an avid swimmer, water-skier and sailor, became the first female Sunfish World Champion, when competing in the 1971 Sunfish Worlds in Puerto Azul, Venezuela. The following year, Dick proudly represented the Virgin Islands in the 1972 Summer Olympics in the Soling Class.

This competitive streak continued into the second generation. Peter won an Olympic silver medal in the Finn Class in 1988 and was a helmsman for America’s Cup winner, Alinghi. John, who has always enjoyed both one and two hulled boats, earned a bronze medal in Lasers at the 1987 Caribbean and Central American (CAC) Games and a first place at the 1994 Prindle 19 National Championship with then 12-year-old Chris Marshall. Closer to home, John has won several Rolex watches in the Beach Cat Class at the International Rolex Regatta (IRR), hosted by the STYC.

It was at the IRR nearly a decade ago that John set sail with the third generation of the Holmberg family to take to the seas. That is, his now 14-year-old son Kai.

“We started racing together on the IC24, Stinger, when Kai was five and then beach cats when he turned ten,” John tells. “In 2010, we had the wonderful experience of representing the U.S. Virgin Islands at the CAC games in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, in the Hobie 16. That taught Kai about humility and sportsmanship as we had a good beating by my friend and Hobie World Champion, Enrique ‘Kike’ Figeroa.”

With such a strong history of competitive sailing in the family, John has decided to adopt a low-pressure approach toward the sport with Kai.

“Our philosophy is KISS (keep it simple silly),” John explains. “Kai and I race with only three main goals: (1) right side up, (2) start and finish every race, and (3) have fun. We have won many races this way and are having a blast too.”

John adds, “I encourage Kai to sail sometimes when he does not want to, but I also know that all of his time fishing, diving, kayaking, paddle boarding and surfing, to name a few, are valuable experiences. If he decides to pursue another sport, I encourage it. You are only a kid once and the experiences you gather create the expertise that you will utilize for a lifetime!”

Next up, John and Kai are launching a Formula 18 campaign. High points later this year include the U.S. Nationals in Sarasota in October and the Cata Cup in St. Barth in November.

Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.

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