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Caribbean Kids Score Big at 2006 Optimist World Championships

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Sixteen junior sailors from the Caribbean – the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands, Trinidad & Tobago, and Curacao – were among the 228 competitors hailing from some 50 nations around the globe that took part in the 2006 Optimist World Championships in late December and January.

Sailed in Montevideo, Uruguay, out of the Yacht Club Uruguayo, in winds conditions that ranged from under six knots to 25-knots-plus, Caribbean sailors made the junior sailing world sit up and take notice by a string of outstanding performances.

This fact was summed up best by Robert Wilkes, the Ireland-based secretary of the International Optimist Dinghy Association (IODA), when he wrote in the event’s final summary, “It should come as no surprise that so many of these sailors are from the Caribbean where fleets are booming and standards rising.”

Puerto Rico’s Ramón Gonzalez finished 23rd overall, the highest finish for a Puerto Rican sailor at the Worlds – and took home the trophy for Top North American skipper.

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St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands’ sailor, Ian Barrows, set a new record for best finish at the Worlds by a USVI sailor, with a 61st finish. Barrows said, “I hiked hard when it was windy, and I sailed fast in the light days.”

Meanwhile, Curacao’s Ard van Aanholt set a high standard for the Netherlands Antilles with his 78th finish, the Dominican Republic’s Eduardo Ariza for his country with a 103rd finish, and the BVI’s Alec Anderson the same with his 106th place finish.

Susan Gibbons, country representative for the U.S. Virgin Islands team said, “Almost all of the Caribbean sailors scored at least one if not more top ten finishes out of the 15 races.”

St. Thomas’ Alex Coyle didn’t achieve a top ten finish, however his skillful and consistent performance led him to 70th place overall – outstandingly up from 212th last year at the Worlds in Switzerland.

Coyle said, “It was a really good regatta for me and I think it was due to all the coaching we had. It wasn’t just one thing we learned, it was everything, plus all the time we spent in practice.” USVI and BVI sailors trained five days a week with Coach Agustin Resano from Argentina since May 2006.

St. Croix’s Billy Gibbons, who ended 109th in Uruguay compared to 226th in Switzerland the year before, also compared the two events. “I definitely felt more prepared. All the practice and preparation really paid off because it set me up to do much better, both in the brain work and the tactics.”

Even though he finished 174th in his first World’s debut, St. Thomas’ Alec Tayler scored a 9th place finish on the fourth day of the competition. “There was some tough competition, but it was fun. I learned a lot.”

Finally, St. Thomas’ Nikole “Nikki” Barnes, who finished 158th, earned two distinctions at this year’s Worlds – she was the only girl from the Caribbean and she was the lone Caribbean sailor to score a first place finish.

Barnes described her bulleted race: “I started on the Committee boat end to get a clear start. Then, even though two kids from Denmark on one of the legs covered me, I read the shifts right and got in front of the fleet. I was so happy that I just started screaming and singing after I crossed the finish line.”

Julian Autenrieth from Germany won the 2006 Optimist World Championships, while Singapore won the Team Racing Championships.

In other Optimist news, Curacao was awarded the host location for the 2008 Optimist North American Championships and Puerto Rico’s Jose “Quino” Nigaglioni was voted in as vice president of IODA from the Americas.

RESULTS (228 sailors)

23. Ramon Gonzalez, Puerto Rico (214)
48. Raul Rios, Puerto Rico (289)
58. Ivan Aponte, Puerto Rico (314)
61. Ian Barrows, St. Thomas, USVI (323)
70. Alexander Coyle, St. John, USVI (345)
78. Ard van Aanholt, Curacao (361)
100. Wesley Scott, Trinidad (394)
106. Alec Anderson, British Virgin Islands (405)
109. Billy Gibbons, St. Croix, USVI (417)
124. Jose Nigaglioni, Puerto Rico (124)
130. Alexander Weedon, Trinidad (466)
158. Nikole Barnes, St. Thomas, USVI (540)
159. Just van Aanholt, Curacao (542)
165. Fernando Monllor, Puerto Rico (552)
174. Alecsander Tayler, St. Thomas, USVI (587)
216. Mark Peters, Trinidad (778)

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Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.

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