Forty-three junior sailors from the Netherlands Antilles, Dominican Republic, U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Trinidad, as well as U.S. mainland and Germany, gathered in Humacao, Puerto Rico, over the American Thanksgiving holiday in November. It wasn’t feasting on turkey that these kids were after, it was high level training combined with a clinic and practice regatta that took advantage of what Caribbean sailors need most to improve their skills – big fleets.
“The event was named ‘Caribbean Meeting’ and it is part of a new concept we are trying to bring together with other sailing programs in the Caribbean,” says head coach Gonzalo ‘Bocha’ Pollitzer.
“The day would start with breakfast, rigging and morning debriefing. We sailed for three hours in the morning, sailing on specific courses and doing drills. The training was focused on lots of starts and strategy with a big fleet, combined with speed tests and manoeuvres. Lunch was on the water, and in the afternoon, we ended the day with two or three individual races. Back on shore, we had a short debriefing and let the sailors take a break. We let the kids have some time beach surfing or boarding as well as enjoy social events like Thanksgiving Dinner.”
Coaches for the clinic included Agustin ‘Argy’ Resano, Manny Resano, Leandro Spina, Martin Jenkins, and Pollitzer.
This type of clinic is just one part of what will take place in the future at the new non-profit Palmas International Sailing Academy (PISA), based out of the Palmas del Mar Marina in Humacao, Puerto Rico.
The idea to start the academy in the Caribbean, says Pollitzer, is many-fold, and includes the region’s ‘perfect’ sailing conditions, the excellent infrastructure found at resort areas like Palmas del Mar, and parent enthusiasm – especially the Aponte family, who live close by and invested lots of time and support to help get the center off the ground.
Pollitzer says, “Our goal is to create training programs for high performance athletes, and at the same time to increase the number of sailors in the country. The way we are trying to achieve this is by organizing after-school sailing programs for ages seven to 17, in Optimist, Laser, Splash and 420. These sailing lessons are offered to students from different schools in the region.
“So far, the Palmas Academy has become the first school from Puerto Rico to be a member of the ISSA (Interscholastic Sailing Association). There is an active fleet of beginners involved in Optimist and 420, who are starting to do some local green fleet racing, too. The double-handed fleet is increasing, and we look forward to introducing a new double-handed class, probably the 29er.”
In addition, Pollitzer says, “We are ready to arrange and provide boats, coach boats and housing to any team or sailor who wants to come and practice here any time of the year. Sailors may come with their own coach or they may want to be coached by somebody on our staff. The most important is to choose the dates in advance for us to get everything organized and coordinate our calendar. We already have some European and US sailors coming along during this winter season.”
In the future too, there will be a second annual Optimist Clinic for Thanksgiving 2008, plus similar clinics tentatively scheduled for the Easter holiday and summer vacation.
“It is very clear that the level of the junior sailors in the Caribbean is getting better and better, and in the next years this will be reflected in other international classes. Why not Olympic classes? That is our goal. That is where we are aiming.”