The Carlos Aguilar Match Race in December was the second match race regatta I had ever done. As the host club, the St. Thomas Yacht Club got to field a team. It would be the same team of Virgin Islanders that sailed the US Women's Match Race Championships the month before, with Kelly O'Brien Uszenski at the helm, Emily Newbold on the bow, Sophie Newbold handling the jib, and me working the main and calling tactics.
As with the previous regatta, there was no such thing as starting off light. Not only was the competition tougher overall, but the conditions inside Charlotte Amalie Harbor are anything but predictable. Huge shifts could come in from either side of the course, and the race committee and mark boat had to work hard to keep the course square. More often than not the boats would round the leeward mark only to be greeted with a course change flag and a sound signal directing them to a different windward mark.
Still, we went in with the comfort of knowing that we had already gotten our first regatta out of the way. We knew the drill, so to speak, and though things were still fairly new to us, we'd caught the match racing bug, and we wanted more. We also had Verian Aguilar sailing with us on the first day of the regatta, taking Sophie's place for the day. Verian's experience and quietude helped calm our nerves a bit as we geared up for our first race against Claire Leroy, the number one female match racer in the world.
We lost race after race that first day. Going up against opponents like Claire Leroy and Gennie Tulloch, the number one female match racer in the US, it was no surprise. But every race, we also learned something new, discovering the moves that didn't work, and surprising ourselves by executing plays that did.
They say you go out and play with the best so that you can get better, and after facing the best of the best the first day of the regatta we came ready to win on the second. We won three races that second day, and though we lost again to the champions as we faced them in the second round robin on the third day, we came closer every time.
Match racing is a game that you can never completely master, which is one of the greatest things about it. Just sitting on the waterfront of Charlotte Amalie, watching some of the world's current best and former greats challenge each other was amazing experience. I watched as home town hero Peter Holmberg took out the current US Match Racing Champion Dave Perry with three penalty flags before the starting gun even went off, and as a former America's Cup skipper Jes Gram-Hansen was disqualified from a race for rounding the wrong windward mark.
I also watched as the winners, losers and everyone in between cheered on the many volunteers who put on a world-class regatta in honor of a dear friend. Only in the islands do you do a shot of Patron to celebrate your finish. Maybe we should have taken one out of Carlos's book and taken a shot of Patron to calm our nerves and celebrate our start in match racing as well.
Andrea Bailey is a recent graduate of the College of Liberal Arts at Georgetown University, Washington, DC and a former collegiate sailor who has returned to her home island of St. Thomas.