Cold rainy weather and wind conditions that ranged from dead calm to blustery proved challenging for the contingent of eight junior sailors, aged from 7- to 14-years-old and representing all three of the US Virgin Islands, who competed in the 2004 Optimist National Championships. In spite of the demanding conditions, the Virgin Islands sailors made a fine showing in what was a record attendance of 430 competitors.
“It was the biggest regatta I had ever competed in, that probably all of the VI sailors had been in,” said 11-year-old Billy Gibbons,
who sails for the St. Croix Yacht Club. “It was a pretty intense regatta for me as I was sailing against some of the top sailors in the US and sailors that went to the Worlds.”
The regatta was sailed July 26 to 30 out of the Bellport Yacht Club in Patchogue Bay, New York, which is between the south shore of Long Island and Fire Island. Conditions proved choppy, as the depth of the water reached less than 10 feet at the deepest point.
The first day of the regatta brought very heavy winds, rain and cold temperatures in the mid 60s that had the Caribbean sailors jumping into splash gear, pants and boots.
The second day brought very light winds, with most of the sailors being towed out to the racecourse. In fact, only 12 sailors finished the last race of the day in the time required by the sailing instructions. This meant that all others were given a DNF (Did Not Finish) score.
But warm weather and fair winds prevailed on the third day. Conditions were so good that the race committee ran races until almost 7pm in the evening – a long day considering the sailors left the beach at 8:30am and ate lunch on the water.
The fourth and last day had such light winds in the morning that the races were postponed until the wind filled in a bit. The final two races were run in fair winds.
Due to the size of the Championship Fleet – which combined the age-divided White Fleet (age 10 and under), Blue Fleet (age 11 and 12) and Red Fleet (age 13 to 15) – the sailors were randomly broken into eight flights of approximately 50 sailors in each. The race committee then ran two groups against each other so that there were 4 heats to each race. There were 14 races for the regatta, allowing two throw-outs. This meant that the race committee was running 56 starts, not including the general recalls.
The Virgin Islands sailors did well, especially considering the conditions and the size of the fleet. St. Thomas’ Tyler Rice, St. Croix’s Billy Gibbons, St. Croix’s Morgan Bryan and St. Thomas’ William Bailey finished 33rd, 34th, 52nd and 57th, respectively, out of 170 boats in the Blue Fleet. St. Thomas’ Christopher Cilliers, 9, ended a commendable 21 out of 41 in the White Fleet. And, in the Green Beginner Fleet, St. Croix’s Mackenzie Bryan placed 5th, while St. John’s Alex Coyle finished 6th out of 63 sailors.
Best of all, the Virgin Islands’ sailors looked great in their blue team shirts and red logo sweatshirts sponsored by the Virgin Islands Sailing Association. As an added way to show country pride, the sailors each had a VI flag sewn onto their life jackets, proudly representing their home.
“Sailing in the Nationals was a new experience for me,” said 14-year-old Rian Bareuther. “I think all kids that sail in the Caribbean should try to also sail somewhere else like the States because it really helps you learn a lot.”