“When you see that boom coming, you have to be on top of your game,” said Barry “Bazza” Cooper, watching skills displayed on the water by sailors in St. Croix’s Teague Bay over the Memorial Day Weekend, May 26 and 27. The CEO and “Tea Master” of the American-based Cooper Tea Company, born in England and raised in Kenya, Cooper sponsors USA Rugby-sanctioned event at the college, club and national levels as well as St. Croix Yacht Club events for junior sailors.
Maybe it was all those antioxidents in the Bazza Tea sailors were drinking all weekend, but spirits were high even on Saturday when winds were low and Sahara dust left skies hazy. Second day breezes cleared things up for the 30 sailors who turned out for the event, half of them juniors wrapping up local Opti season racing before summer.
Overall Optimist results saw St. Croix’s Billy Gibbons capture first place, followed by Nikki Barnes (St. Thomas) in second, and Ian Barrow (St. Thomas) in third. Gibbons and Barnes led the Red Fleet with Alex Coyle in third place. Among the younger kids, Addison Hackstaff from St. Thomas led the White Fleet and Patson Saner from St. Croix earned Green Fleet honors, a respectable showing for a junior sailor’s first regatta season.
Taking the lead among the four 420 teams were the experienced Sydney Jones and Krista Siino. St. Croix’s Jae Tonachel topped the Laser sailors, followed by yacht club elder Beecher Higby in second, irreverently characterized by organizer Chris Schreiber as “the father of Laser sailing,” and by Chris Schreiber, Jr. in third place. Tonachel’s sister Beth came in second to the only other Sunfish sailor, Hector Perez, but she took home the regatta’s Sportsmanship Award.
“I started a little late,” says Beth Tonachel, who got into Optis at the ripe old age of 13. She made up for lost time by entering the Merchant Marine Academy three years ago, where she sailed some during her freshman year. Next year when she graduates Tonachel plans to sail on commercial vessels. Of her graduating class of 250, just 10% are women—“Small but mighty,” she laughs.
Sailors were reminded at the end of the weekend that St. Croix will be hosting the Caribbean Dinghy Championships at the start of August and many who turned out for CROOD will end up on the USVI team. But some, like Gibbons and Barnes, will miss the event—they’ll be honing their skills against an international slate at the Optimist Worlds in Italy at the end of July.