Not many Caribbean junior sailors can say that the competitive spirit behind their successful sailing career was born on snow-covered mountains. Yet this was the case for 16-year-old Rhône Findlay. Rhône’s Olympic racer and ski instructor father, Ruargh, taught him how to ski as a toddler and by the age of five he could ski in all conditions as well as any seasoned adult. Rhône entered his first serious ski competition a year later. Therefore, it was natural when the snow-skiing family sold their business and moved to St. Maarten, that the then eight-year-old Rhône would equally apply himself at a warm weather sport. He has since thrived on sailing.
Three people played a crucial role in Rhône’s initial sailing career. The first was Robbie Ferron, founder of the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, past-president of the St. Maarten Yacht Club (SMYC) and avid racer, who encouraged Rhône to sail in weekly races in the Simpson Bay Lagoon. The second was Janwillem Tak, who taught sailing at the SMYC. Rhône soaked up the Dutchman’s teachings about the principals of winds, currents and their effect on sails and hulls like a sponge. The third major influencer was Rhône’s dad who threw himself into creating several opportunities for Rhône, realizing the advantage that sailing could offer a child in terms of teaching independence, responsibility for his actions and decision-making, at an early age.
One of these opportunities came in the wake of Rhône’s competition in the Scotiabank International Optimist Regatta in St. Thomas. This was Rhône’s first international race and he capsized eight times in four to six-foot seas. As a result, Ruargh purchased a dinghy and spent two days a week for years taking Rhône out to sea in every possible condition. This included during hurricane Igor when Ruargh snapped the now famous photo of Rhône cresting a 15ft wave that dwarfed buildings behind him at the Pelican Resort. In 2010, Rhône became the first (and only) child to solo circumnavigate St. Maarten-St. Martin in an Optimist and in challenging weather.
An Optimist was the only boat Rhône sailed for the first few years. At age 12, he was invited by a California team to crew as bowman on a Beneteau 51.5 in the bareboat class at the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta. He loved it, did the same the next year, and was the youngest crewmember in the 250 boat fleet. Since then, he’s been invited to crew on the Open 750, Panic Attack, and as a member of the Coors Light Race team with friend and mentor, Dr. Frits Bus. Rhône has also sailed Sunfish in the Sunfish Youth Worlds and now, most actively, a Laser.
Over the past six years, Rhône has competed in over 40 international or inter-island regattas. These have included several IODA North and South American Championships and a number of National Open Championships. These regattas have taken the teenager to seventeen countries on three continents.
Most recently, Rhône received the stellar opportunity to be sponsored by UK-based parenting products company, Maclaren.
Maclaren has already initiated several projects to align the Maclaren brand with global dinghy sailing including the sponsorship of Team Maclaren, the U.S. Women’s Olympic Match Racing team led by Anna Tunnicliffe. Maclaren Crew kicked off in April 2012 with US, Canadian and UK Laser sailors Rob Crane, David Wright and Nick Thompson, respectively, as well as teenagers Maria Mabjaia of Mozambique and Rhône. This will definitely help the St. Maarten sailor in his Olympic dinghy sailing pursuit.
When asked what his proudest achievement was, Rhône answered, “Winning the 2010 St. Maarten Outstanding Youth Award (SMOYA), and now this Maclaren sponsorship.”