Some of the best junior sailors in the Caribbean – and world – will meet at Pigeon Point, Tobago, to compete in the 2005 Optimist North American Championships, set for June 24 to July 3.
“This is the first time since its creation in 1976 that the championship will be held in Caribbean waters,” says Marie Iles, event coordinator. “We expect the event to be one of the largest North American Championships ever, attracting about 200 of the most talented youth sailors from across the USA, Canada, Central America, South America and the Caribbean, almost twice the number which attended last year’s event in Houston, Texas.”
Competitors, who are 10- to 15-year-old girls and boys, have been selected through a series of rigorous team trials and are required to have qualified in their home country in order to enter the regatta as a member of their national team. They will race aboard an Optimist, which is an 8-foot-long, flat-bottomed, pram-bow dinghy with a four-sided “sprit” sail that is supported by a mast, angled sprit-pole and boom. The Optimist is an International Sailing Federation-approved class. According to the International Optimist Dinghy Association (IODA), over 60 percent of the skippers and 70 percent of the medal winning skippers at the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens were former Optimist sailors.
Participating sailors will complete a series of 12 races over one course during the seven-day event for the coveted title of 2005 Optimist North American Champion.
Iles says, “Qualifying sailors will also have the opportunity to compete on behalf of their country in the Team Racing Championship. One day of the regatta will be given over to this popular racing format which involves teams of individual sailors working together to use strategic maneuvers to outwit their opponents during a series of fast-paced races.”
The Championship will give Trinidad and Tobago’s young sailors the advantage of competing at an international level for the first time in home waters.
Iles says, “Trinidad’s Optimist sailors have succeeded both as individuals and as part of a team in previous international regattas.”
Most recently, Matthew Scott, who has been sailing less than a year, placed seventh overall in Ecuador at the 2004 World Championship, attended by 228 Optimist sailors from around the world. Scott, along with team members Andrew Lewis, Aaron Barcant and Stuart Leighton, placed second at the 2004 South American Championship. Their success placed Trinidad and Tobago in the Optimist championship history books as the first ever country to win an overall second place ranking in the Team Racing category on debut.
The Trinidad and Tobago Sailing Association, with the support of the government, intend to use the publicity generated by the event to promote national participation in youth sailing. They envision this will take place throughout the coastal areas of Trinidad and Tobago via the development of a series of satellite sailing centers where children can learn to sail at little cost to themselves.
Isles says, “Work is scheduled to begin on the creation of the new sailing centers in September 2005. It’s hoped that the move will encourage more of Trinidad and Tobago’s youth to take up this challenging sport.”