Ask anyone who participated in the Second Annual Carlos Aguilar Match Race (CAMR) the first week of December if they had fun, and you will get a unanimous "yes." Competitors who flew in from Europe, the Midwest and New England delighted in sailing in the sunshine while receiving reports of snow back home. Those from the Caribbean took pleasure in showing their guests a good time and demonstrating their sailing prowess.
The CAMR is a memorial regatta to St. Thomas sailor Carlos Aguilar who had a natural gift that endeared kids to him. To see Taylor Canfield and Kelly O'Brien Uszenski, who regularly sailed with Carlos and Verian Aguilar, do so well as skippers against internationally-acclaimed match racers would have made Carlos proud. Canfield, a Boston College junior and top ranked collegiate sailor, won last year's event with Max Nickbarg and Tyler Rice, who are still in high school. This year, the young team had Chris Rosenberg on main & tactics and put on a good show in the finals against well-known Caribbean sailors Peter Holmberg, Maurice Kurg, Morgan Avery and Ben Beer.
Peter Holmberg, who has played a leading role in orchestrating the growth of the CAMR, and his wise veterans were the first to score two wins in the finals and were crowned victors with Ulysse Nardin and Trident Jewels & Time-supplied watches at regatta headquarters, Yacht Haven Grande.
France's Claire Leroy, who has been the top women's match racing skipper for more than two years, beat Genny Tulloch, the US Women's Match Racing Champion. Already one of the few Grade I women's match racing events in North America, the CAMR will be a much sought after event to attend as we approach the 2012 Olympic debut of Women's Match Racing.
St. Thomians had a soft spot for Kelly O'Brien Uszenski's team. Regatta co-director Verian Aguilar subbed in for Sophie Newbold one day. The team, which also included Emily Newbold and Andi Bailey, drew island-wide support when they went on a three match winning streak in windy conditions.
Colin Rathbun, Nick Cunha, Chris Watters and Chris Brockbank (IBV) went into the regatta with superb IC24 boat handling and little match racing experience. When they came ashore to prepare for the semi-Finals, Rathbun spoke for the elated team. "We came out and wanted to beat some of the pros and we did it. It's awesome. It's not every day that you get to do that!" Their compatriots, Chris Haycraft, Andrew Waters, Bob Phillips and Kevin Wrigley were among Rathbun's loudest cheerleaders during their semi-finals matches against Taylor Canfield's (ISV) team.
The presence of the El Salvadorian team meant more to Verian Aguilar than any other. Carlos Aguilar grew up in El Salvador and his father sailed for El Salvador in the Olympics. After a match racing clinic by Liz Baylis, WIMRA President and representative for North America and the Caribbean, practice at home and sponsorship assistance, Juan Carlos Escobar, Benjamin Diaz, Jorge Guevara and Humberto Zepeda formed a team and represented their island nation at a Caribbean sailing event that had the whole world watching.
Kelly O'Brien Uszenski, Frits Bus, Chris Haycraft, Juan Carlos Escobar and Colin Rathbun's Caribbean teams had a lot in common. They knew how to sail the IC24s well, but they did not have the match racing experience of America's Cup and European sailors or those who have made a commitment to get involved in match racing, request invitations to events and travel.
Many of the teams participated in rules guru Dave Perry's introductory match racing session the evening before the regatta, and when they weren't on the water, many were picking the brains of the better teams and listening to Pat Bailey's and Dave Perry's entertaining and informative commentary during the semi-finals and the finals.
"Sailing is at a disadvantage to other sports because it's not broadcast the way tennis, golf, football and other sports are. Most of the time it is offshore, so it's not very often that you get to see the pros in action and can watch their moves," said Perry who led the crowd in applause when teams executed great moves, won matches or made valiant attempts to put on a good show.
The other team that Verian Aguilar and her co-director, Bill Canfield, could not show enough appreciation for was their squad of dedicated volunteers. Prior to the CAMR, Verian Aguilar said, "I can't say enough about the volunteers. We are so grateful for everything that they do. Everyone in the community – from those who are here everyday, to the businesses, to those who have lent us their boats – is willing the regatta to happen. They are so generous and supportive."
The team was up at 4:30 a.m. every day organizing breakfast, lunch, dinners, parties and racing. Without their hospitality and the generous support from many businesses within the community, the regatta would not have reached the status that it has so quickly. The CAMR is on track to making St. Thomas and the Caribbean a match racing haven.
Lynn Fitzpatrick's articles on sailing appear regularly in international publications including AARP The Magazine and Cruising World. She has been a highly competitive Snipe sailor and was the 2008 Sports Information Specialist for sailing at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.