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Woman at the Helm: Verian Aguilar

A woman at the helm or on the rail isn’t uncommon these days. But, try to name how many women – or men – you know that helm dinghies, ride the rail aboard big boats, plus organize regattas and run race committees on a regular basis. One comes to my mind, and it’s St. Thomas’ Verian Aguilar.

A native of the far northern state of Maine, Aguilar first stepped on a sailboat at the age of 22. “We avidly cruised the Maine coast, mostly day sailing,” she says. “I didn’t start racing until four years later when I rode as ballast on a 50-footer called Airwaves.”

Aguilar continued to race, mostly big boats out of the Portland Yacht Club, crewing as ballast and the one who brought the cookies and lunch. “We did some longer, overnight, weekend races and I spent plenty of time dry heaving, going backwards in the tide, finishing races in dense fog and going back at it the next season.”

A few years later, in 1986, Aguilar moved to the Virgin Islands. “It was awesome to sail in a bathing suit rather than foul weather gear, and to be able to sail all year rather than just a few months each summer,” she says.

Aguilar and her family, which now included son Brett and daughter Ashley, cruised the islands aboard a 35-foot Beneteau purchased in Martinique and delivered to the V.I.

It was having two kids and wanting them to learn Optimist sailing, in combination with being a professional teacher (Aguilar is the resource program coordinator at Antilles School), that led to active roles in race committee and sailing instruction.

“Henry Menin tapped Bruce Marshall and I to help out with the first Scotiabank Optimist Regatta,” Aguilar says. “California Judges, Pete Ives and Chuck Fuller, got me into race committee and race management. I learned so much from them over the 11 years that they came to officiate over the event. I also took an ISAF race management course and learned to run races on my own.”

She adds, “Now, I love to do race committee just about as much as I like to race. It’s so much fun trying to set up the perfect racecourse and to make sure that it’s fair for all competitors.”

When Ashley was a teenager, both she and Aguilar took a sailing instructor course together. From that point, Verian Aguilar embarked on a part-time career as weeknight and weekend sailing instructor, and summer camp director.

“I just love to teach and educate, to find a way to connect with the kids. It’s definitely rewarding, especially with the Optimist. It’s fun to see the kids in their early years and how they progress.”

During these same years, and with her foundation in racing, Aguilar actively crewed aboard a J/29 and J/22. “I progressively worked different positions and positions with more responsibility. I loved it. I also ended up crewing for several different skippers, many of them highly-experienced, and learned from each of them.”

It was also during this time that Aguilar took out her first Laser for a spin and got a taste of the single-handing life. “It was totally different and I really loved it. In fact, I started competing in the Women’s Laser Regatta held here at the St. Thomas Yacht Club. That was several years ago, and I still enjoy it. I must say, I’m 50 now and I felt it a little more this year. But, I just love the competition and camaraderie.”

Aguilar adds, “I like sailing with women, with my peers. They have such a different reaction than do men; they’re much nicer on the course. For example, men yell and scream. Women would think you’re mad at them forever if you did that. It just follows a woman’s personality. We like it to be pleasant to be out, yet competitive. We try to promote everyone out there and cheer them on, like at this year’s St. Thomas Radiology Women’s Regatta & Tennis Tournament.”  Yet she adds, “I have to say, I do get a lot of satisfaction of beating a guy.”

Aguilar also enjoys the teamwork aspect of sailing. This was readily shown when she and four other St. Thomas women formed a team and competed in the Nation’s Cup Qualifier this past June. 

How did Verian Aguilar get to be multi-talented when it comes to sailing?
“In a small place, you jump in to do what it takes and make things happen. That’s also how you grow and learn. And, how you build confidence,” she says.

In the future, she says, “Women’s sailing events are not out of the ordinary these days. I suspect we’ll see a lot more of them, and continue to see many women get into the sport of sailing.”

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