The depth of seamanship talent in Coral Bay is renowned as liveaboards likely outnumber landlubbers. This easternmost settlement on the USVI’s St. John is also home base for one of the most successful youth sail training programs in the Caribbean, KATS (Kids and The Sea), plus headquarters for several annual regattas. Each of these three stars perfectly aligned on the weekend of May 3rd – 4th 2014. That’s when a 16 boat fleet of Coral Bay’s best was ultimately beaten by 15-year-old KATS program graduate, Paige Clarke, to win the 15th Annual Budget Marine Commodore’s Cup. What’s more Clarke earned the top prize while single-handedly skippering her 12ft Byte CII, the one-design dinghy she’ll sail this summer when representing the territory at the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China.
“It was a great experience to race with so many great sailors and being able to sail with boats two to three times the size of my Byte,” says Clarke. “My favorite part of the regatta started on land with the support from the whole community and carried over to the water with cheers of encouragement from the passing boats.”
Racing kicked-off on day one with winds blowing 15 to 20 knots. The fleet set sail in four divisions: PHRF racing spinnaker, PHRF racing non-spinnaker, Pursuit under 35ft and Pursuit 35ft and over. Clarke raced in the Pursuit under 35ft division.
“The course was a whopping 22 miles long and this proved to be tough with the wind and swell,” Clarke explains. “O’deje, which was skippered by Sara O’neill, took first place with me finishing second. Luckily for me the wind dropped to 10 to 15 knots the second day. Plus, on the first day I wasn’t totally sure where the first ‘mark’ (Pelican Island) was, but on the second day I knew exactly where I needed to sail, which led to my first place in the division.”
A signature feature of this regatta calls for each four divisional winners to participate in a race-off aboard Lasers to determine the overall Commodore’s Cup champion. This meant PHRF Spinnaker champ Mike Finley who raced IC24 Ocean Potion, PHRF Non-Spinnaker leader Jim ‘Bear’ Austen aboard his Pearson 29.5 Zephyr, and Pursuit 35ft and over victor Tom Rowlinson sailing his S&S 41.5 Terra Nova all faced off against each other and Clarke.
“I definitely had an advantage because I am acclimated to sailing dinghies, which helped lead to my victory,” says Clarke.
Clarke, a 10th grader at Antilles School on St. Thomas, first started sailing with the St. John KATS program at age nine. At first, she didn’t look forward to sailing every Saturday. In fact, she says she dreaded it. She even tried to quit at one point, but didn’t because she didn’t want to disappoint her instructors. Her stick-to-itiveness won out and with the continued guidance of her KATS instructors she developed a real passion for sailing. This passion has shaped a career that has seen her successfully race Optimist dinghies in several countries around the world, an undertaking she is now repeating on the Byte CII.
“We are more than happy to participate in a regatta that helps support the youth sailing program on St. John and to participate with the kids that will be representing the Virgin Islands in junior and adult Olympics,” says Zephyr’s Austen, a keen sailor with many regatta wins to his credit.