Nearly 150 junior sailors from 19 countries set sail in the Seaboard Marine Optimist North American Championships (OPTINAMS), hosted July 10 to 18 out of the Antigua Yacht Club in English Harbour, Antigua. Uruguay’s Hernon Umpierre won this continental championship. However, the event gave sailors from six Caribbean nations both a time to shine and to soak up plenty of sailing experiences.
Format for the OPTINAMS was four days of fleet racing with one day in-between for the team racing championships. On the last day, sailors were divided into gold, silver and bronze fleets based on results. The competition area was south of English harbour.
Interestingly, the championships host venue of Nelson’s Dockyard, was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site by an international committee meeting in Turkey on the same day the regatta finished.
Islands represented at the OPTINAMS were the US Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Antigua, St. Vincent & the Grenadines and Trinidad & Tobago.
The USVI’s Mia Nicolosi, BVI’s Rayne Duff and Nathan Haycraft, and USVI’s Mathieu Dale were among those Caribbean sailors that finished in the Gold Fleet.
“What helped the most is that the wind and ocean conditions in Antigua are just like we practice in at home in St. Thomas,” says Nicolosi, who finished fourth overall, Top Girl and Top Caribbean sailor.
Duff missed his goal of finishing in the top ten by one point, but 11th place overall in this highly-skilled fleet is commendable. “My simple strategy was to have good, safe starts and play the course up the middle left most races,” says Duff.
“My favorite part was the wind. Antigua always has enough wind to race.”
Learning something new and improving each day landed Haycraft in gold. “I started strong and at a good position and moved higher on the leader board after each day,” he says, ending 18th overall. “What I really enjoyed most was meeting all the new kids and the closing ceremony, which was full of fun, dancing and being thrown into the water.”
Nailing good starts was Dale’s objective and what gave him a great 29th place finish. “International regattas like this usually have 50 to 60 boats on the starting line and it is critical to have decent starts. Plus, the competition was stiff because all the sailors that came had to qualify in their home country,” he says.
Puerto Rico’s Jose Diaz and Antigua’s Louis Bavay ended well in the Blue Fleet.
“I really wanted to make the Gold and I think I would have if not for the over early and disqualification I got on the second day,” says Diaz. “But I am happy because this was my first Optimist championship and it was a great experience.”
The OPTINAMS was the last in Optis for Bavay, who had nearly outgrown and aged-out of the eight-foot dinghy.
“Louis and his best friend/crew Rocco Falcone are training hard to be top international sailors in 29er, a class not well known in Antigua. So this regatta is not his last, but the beginning of many others,” says Bavay’s mom, Lilly, as Bavay and Falcone were en route to the 29er World Championships in Holland.
Antigua’s Maria Eldridge and Trinidad & Tobago’s Christoph Dells completed the OPTINAMS in the Red Fleet.
“The best to me was the team racing day. One reason is working as a team, which is fantastic and very exciting, especially since with only four sailors we rarely get to practice it,” Eldridge says.
For Dells, who was nervously sailing in his first international regatta, it was the lay day that proved most memorable. “I got to speak to the lead sailor of the competition Hernan from Uruguay. He gave me good advice and his experiences sailing in competitions around the world was very useful in calming my nerves,” he says.
OPTINAM organizers, who have hosted this regatta for two years in a row, are pleased with the successful outcome and what it means for the island.
“Antigua is becoming well known around the world for its dinghy sailing events,” says regatta director Paola Vittoria. “Let’s see what the future will bring!”
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.