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St Thomas Youngsters Making Waves on New Englands Summer Circuit

Spurning conventional summer ‘Va-K’ pursuits for the grueling international racing circuit, this latest crop of talented high school athletes from the St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands-based Antilles School Sailing Team headed to New England last summer, where they turned in a Gold Fleet-winning performance at the 9th annual C.J. Buckley Jr. Team Race Regatta (August 1-3) off Goddard Memorial Park in East Greenwich, RI.

Contested by 36 teams, the Greenwich Bay Sailing Association’s C.J. Buckley served as the Club 420 Association’s 2011 National Jr. Team Race Championship. Under the scrutiny of Antilles coach Kimberly Murtha, skipper/crew teams (1) Alec Tayler/Taylor Ladd; (2) Ian Barrows /Jordan Ladd; and (3) Kyle Brego/Ian Coyle, utilized RI’s diverse conditions to sharpen team skills for the 2011-2012 interscholastic schedules.

St. Thomas’ Tayler earned the Sportsmanship Award, judged by the nation’s top college coaches and sailors. The 16-year-old jumpstarted summer in Newport, RI, finishing sixth among 27 Laser Radials at June’s 2011 Brooke Gonzalez Advanced Racing Clinic, arguably the East Coast’s most intensive workshop.

Crewing for freshly-graduated Antilles captain William Bailey, Tayler and Barrows scored an impressive sixth at CA’s Balboa Yacht Club, battling the world’s sharpest match racers-in-training at the 45th Annual Governor’s Cup International Junior Match Racing Championship (July 19-24).

Determined to join Antilles mates at the East Greenwich Yacht Club, returning St. Thomas senior Nikki Barnes secured a slot as skipper alternate; while St. John’s 16-year-old Brego flew from France’s 2011 World Laser Radial Youth Championship, where 375 top-gun Laser Radial youth represented 44 countries.

Hauling still-damp gear from RI, Brego, Barrows, and Tayler sped north to MA, with barely a day to spare for laundry, or the Buzzards Bay Regatta (August 5-7) kick-off.

Hosted at alternating venues by the south coast’s largest clubs – the venerable New Bedford Yacht Club (odd years) on South Dartmouth’s Padanaram Harbor and Beverly Yacht Club (even years) on Marion’s Sippican Harbor – the ‘Buzzard’ has a reputation for race management excellence, crediting support from New Bedford’s Low Tide Yacht Club and Mattapoisett Yacht Club.

The BBR is a popular stopover for high school and collegiate sailors. It’s regarded as New England’s highest caliber multi-class regatta and best attended one-design contest, scoring more than 362 boats total in 2011, a solid choice as Laser District 7 Championship for Laser Radials/Standards.

The St. Thomas Yacht Club sailors needn’t have rushed, however, as Day One’s fluky 5-7 knot breezes postponed racing until the afternoon. Southwesterly winds allowed a solitary Laser Radial start that saw Barrows hunting through the 77-boat fleet to a 14th place finish, followed by Tayler in 34th. Brego’s black flag at the crowded 77-boat start line proved costly.

Saturday scored four starts under partly-cloudy skies, steered by steadier 10 to15-knot winds that favored Barrows’ aggressive tactics and secured Ian’s third place finish. Brego rebounded, nipping Barrows’ heels for fourth. Tayler improved steadily, finishing in 11th position.

Small Craft Warnings, torrential rains, gusts to 25 knots, and building seas Sunday kept Laser Radials and others at the docks on Day Three, locking in Saturday’s scoring as final.

While big-boaters sailed to glory in ‘washing machine-like conditions’ on Buzzards Bay, Barrows and Brego collected trophies, de-rigged in the rain, then shifted focus toward Narragansett Bay, the Newport, RI venue for US SAILING’s prestigious 2011 U.S. Youth Sailing Championship – Radials (August 14-18).

The ‘Big Kahuna’ on August’s schedule, the New York Yacht Club, Sail Newport and Ida Lewis Yacht Club-hosted ‘Youth Championship’ spotlights 133 invitation-only competitors in Laser, Laser Radial, Club 420, and 29ers.

Scoring 10 races for the Laser Radial Series, Barrows earned an impressive third place trophy, out-sailing high-profile national competitors. Brego clawed back from 20th on Wednesday to grab the last Top Ten slot within the 23-boat fleet.

William Bailey’s fourth finish in the 18-boat Laser Standard fleet marked a bittersweet rite of passage for Antilles’ former captain, who leaves high school classmates and cherishes sailing buddies in his wake as he heads to Boston College.

Clearly, the torch of has been passed to yet another talented Antilles Sailing Team, a tightly-knit bunch of globetrotting kids with world-class ambitions, parents willing to sell ‘Rubber Ducky Race’ tickets, ‘Spuds for Sailing’ and 22,000 hot dogs annually to support them.

Arlene R. Martel is a marine industry media consultant, regatta director and author of USVI: America’s Virgin Islands.

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