At the time of year when tumbleweed is blowing through Simpson Bay, the lagoon burst into activity for one enchanting day in October, as 15 youthful competitors took to the water for the second St Maarten Sol Optimist Regatta.
Sailors representing St Maarten, St Barths, Anguilla, the USA, and Switzerland tackled a triangular course buffeted by gusts off the hills, steering their sponsored bathtubs through seven races in total. Last year, local talent Stephen Looser dominated the event, but this time round there was no room for complacency at the helm.
Looser took the first race, but could not impose himself again until race four, with St Barths’ Cesar Hardelay and St Maarten’s Jolyon Ferron posting wins in the interim. Two successive bullets in races five and six for Looser sealed the destination of the trophy for a second year, but a win for Rhone Findlay in the final race indicated the depth of field that took to the water this year. Eleven-year-old Looser, who has been sailing for five years, has been training regularly at the Yacht Club as part of their Saturday session. His tactic was to “sit back and stay relaxed”.
The final podium comprised Looser, ahead of Hardelay, with Jolyon Ferron in third place, but this was the kind of event where everyone is a winner. Awards for sportsmanship were presented to Daniel Andrews from Anguilla, and Saskia Looser and Harry Antrobus from St Maarten.
The Anguilla Sailing Association, headed by Peter Parles of Anguilla Mix-Up Regatta fame, brought four optimistic Optimisters to the event, to blood them in the art of competition. All performed creditably, adapting rapidly to conditions and rules to fire a warning shot for next year. Andrews won the Silver Fleet ahead of Zoe Pfeiffer from Switzerland.
According to Parles, the ASA program started in May, but really got off the ground only as recently as July. “We ran a summer school with 40 kids and have an after-school program,” he says. “Everyone, including the government, is behind us. The Rotary Club of Anguilla just donated a J24.” The Anguilla Mix-Up regatta is a means to this end, channeling proceeds into the youth program.
The Sol Optimist Regatta completes St Maarten’s Royal Flush, adding to the Heineken, Classic, Women’s Keelboat, North Sails and Laser Championship. While the island has become accustomed to quality racing from big boat to dinghy, it could be argued that this was the most important niche to fill. Robbie Ferron pointed to Trinidad’s Youth Sailing program, which finished second in the Optimist Worlds, as an example of “what can happen with a good coach and getting together regularly.” St Maarten’s Pieter Goedhart, who left the island for Holland, was also the best-placed Dutch sailor in the recent European Championships. “The quality of growth is enormous,” says Ferron. “If that is repeated, we will be ready to go and give some licks to the other islands.”