High school sailing is a relatively new phenomenon in the Caribbean. Yet, in five short years the Antilles Sailing Team has claimed five national titles. The latest came in May when the St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands-based team won the National High School Fleet Racing Championship for the ISSA (Interscholastic Sailing Association) Mallory Trophy 2011, hosted by the Austin Yacht Club, in Austin, Texas. This win capped off a year that saw several other sailing achievements as well.
The team's success in the 2010-11 school year started early and in the fall. On the weekend of October 16th -17th the Antilles team won the 2010 Fall High School Invitational Regatta for the Lawrence A. White Trophy held at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. Antilles was a first time entry into this 21-year-old event. The Caribbean sailors competed against 19 other schools from across the nation in Club 420s and FJs. Antilles won by a confident 33 points over second place Tom's River High School, in New Jersey.
"Team work was the biggest tactic to our success," says William Bailey, a senior and team captain, who was the winning skipper in the A Division and who will attend Boston College in the fall.
The following weekend, Bailey placed fifth in Laser Full Rig and sophomore Ian Barrows won the Laser Radial class at the ISSA High School Single Handed Championship for the Cressy Trophy at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club, in Florida.
The spring is an even more active time for high school sailing and it's a time that culminates in bids for the prestigious Mallory Fleet Racing and Baker Cup for Team Racing. The Antilles sailors were well prepared. This was especially so as nearly all 15 team members took part in a Fleet Racing clinic conducted by Yale University head sailing coach, Zach Leonard, and a Team Racing clinic run by Tuft's University lead sailing coach, Ken Legler.
"The team learned a tremendous amount through these clinics," says Coach Kim Murtha, who is also a middle school teacher. "By having some of the top college coaches come give private attention to the team is a wonderful opportunity, and having a variety of coaching styles really allows them to learn a lot."
The clinics, combined with Murtha's coaching on boat handling, starts, boat speed and more, three times weekly through the school year, paid off.
The Antilles sailors needed to qualify in the South Atlantic District to gain entry into these trophy bids. They did this in a winning way.
First, they traveled to Davis Island Yacht Club in Tampa, Florida, where they bested 12 other teams and earned their slot into the national Mallory Fleet Racing Championships. Two weeks later, they flew to the Fort Lauderdale Yacht Club in Hollywood, Florida, where they earned their ticket to the Baker Cup.
The highlight of the year came when Antilles triumphed over 19 other teams from across the United States to win the Mallory Trophy 2011, hosted by the Austin Yacht Club, in Austin, Texas. The teams competed on Lake Travis, a large inland lake, where winds blowing 10 to 15 knots with gusts to 18 knots proved shifty over the flat water.
"Going into the last two races, we were only 13 points in the lead ahead of Coronado (California)," says Murtha. "However, we managed to beat them in both races and finish on top by 20 points."
Trying for a four-peat win in a row, Antilles had to settle for fifth, yet fifth in the nation, at the Baker Cup Team Racing National Championship in Norfolk, Virginia.
Interestingly, the team this year had only one senior, Bailey, and one junior, Nikki Barnes. This means great things for the future for the young team.
"This team has many talented sailors and is a very hard working group," says Murtha. "They are committed to the team, work well together to help every member improve, and this all contributes to the team's success."
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.