Little did Rhone Kirby know that his initial interest in sailing a decade ago would launch him into the sport in a global way. Yet today, the 17-year-old boasts a resume that includes participation in the 2014 Youth Olympics in Nanjing, China. His future aspirations include representing his home island of Antigua & Barbuda at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games and, after that, race in regattas worldwide as a professional sailor. Kirby’s path over the years serves as a great example to younger junior sailors who desire to follow in his footsteps.
“I went by the yacht club (Antigua Yacht Club) one day and saw all the boats on the water. What really interested me is that they were all sailing at different speeds. That’s when I wanted a boat of my own. I was seven at the time. I started going to the yacht club every day after that to take lessons,” says Kirby, who first learned to sail an Optimist dinghy.
Kirby made his racing debut in the Green or beginner Optimist class at the 2009 Caribbean Dinghy Championships in Barbados. He enjoyed the new experience, from the different wind and current conditions in Carlisle Bay (compared to back home in Falmouth Harbor), to making new friends from other islands. Kirby continued his Opti career in local events as well as traveling to St. Thomas for the International Optimist Regatta; Tortola for the BVI Dinghy Champions and, ultimately, to the Optimist Worlds in the Dominican Republic. It was in the Dominican Republic that he ended his Opti sailing, but not without taking with him the speed, tactics and experience he gained sailing in large competitive fleets.
“I moved into the Laser next because we have a good fleet in Antigua. The feel of the boat is very different from an Opti so I had to train and get used to it. Plus, a Laser goes much faster than an Opti which is more fun,” says Kirby, who has sailed Lasers in the BVI Dinghy Champs, the Orange Bowl Regatta in Florida and most recently the Antigua Laser Open where he finished sixth out of 18 sailors.
Keel boats have played a role in Kirby’s sailing curriculum. He has crewed aboard a J/122 and Cork 1720 in Antigua Sailing Week. In addition, he was a member of the Antigua & Barbuda team that won the BVI’s Premier’s Cup International Youth Regatta aboard IC24s last July.
It was a boat that Kirby had never sailed before that provided him with the opportunity to make his racing debut on the world stage. That is, a Byte CII. He sailed this boat rigged with a radial sail to qualify for the 2014 Youth Olympic Games at an event in Florida in the spring of 2014. Then, to make up for his lack of experience in the regular sail version of the Byte CII, he attended an intensive two-week pre-Olympic training program in the Cayman Islands.
“Just going to China was exciting,” says Rhone. “It was different too. Sailing took place in a lake rather than the sea and the wind was very light. My best finish was seventh.”
Kirby was one of the leaders in his first Olympic race. Then, a penalty that required two full turns that he was unable to complete nor discard the score of this race, cast him down the scoreboard. In spite of this, he strengthened his resolve and determination and produced two top ten finishes. Lack of winds for three days cancelled racing, which didn’t allow the teenager time to recover thus he finished 24th out of 30.
Next up, he plans to build on his Youth Olympic experience to qualify for the 2016 Summer Olympics in the Laser. After Lasers, his dream is to professionally sail as a bowman on race boats.
“Sail fast and keep fit,” Kirby recommends to younger sailors. “Also, always think about what happens next when you’re sailing. Be one step ahead.”