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St John Holds Inaugural Optimist Championship

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Two seasoned U.S. Virgin Islands sailors battled to a tie-breaker finish at the Inaugural Virgin Islands Optimist Dinghy Association (VIODA) Championship, sailed November 26th – 27th out of Maho Bay, St. John. In the end, it was St. Thomas’ Scott McKenzie’s four first place finishes in the eight-race regatta that earned him the win over St. John’s, Paige Clarke, who posted three bullets.

“I was happy with the result, which reflected how tight our sailing was,” says McKenzie. “She (Clarke) is a strong sailor and a great teammate.”

McKenzie started strong, earning four bullets and one second place finish to take the lead the first day, while Clarke stayed close behind with one bullet and four seconds. On the second day, Clarke came back strong and determined after a sixth place in the first race. She sailed the next two races consistently with great tacks and an accurate read of the wind shifts to bullet the last two races of the regatta. The championship ultimately came down to the last race. Clarke got a great start and held the lead for the entire race, while McKenzie rounded the leeward mark in eighth position. However, McKenzie turned on the speed and overtook two sailors on the final upwind leg, to finish fifth and tied on points with Clarke.

Twenty-three junior sailors from all three U.S. Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands and St. Maarten competed under shifty, light wind conditions with a challenging swell.

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This Championship was a USVI qualifier for the 2012 IODA South American Championships. The top five Virgin Islands’ finishers – McKenzie, Clarke and St. Thomas’ Chris Murphy, Teddy Nicolosi and Natalie McConnell – will travel to Buenos Aires in April to represent the territory in fleet and team racing.

“I’m confident that we will make it to the team racing podium in Argentina,” says McKenzie, who is Team ISV captain. “We finished second last year and, though we have had a change of team members, Coach Tino will prepare us to make it again.”

Training by Coach Santiago ‘Tino’ Galan, the resident coach for VIODA’s Advanced Optimist Sailing Program and Team ISV, as well as the true grit of the young sailors, put the team on the team racing podium in 3rd place at the 2010 IODA North American Championships and 2nd place at the 2011 IODA South American Championships.

The VIODA Championship followed a three-day clinic directed by Galan with the assistance of Coach Damian Saponara of Argentina and Coach Caitlyn Connelly of St. Croix Yacht Club. Beginner, intermediate and advanced sailors participated in the clinic with an emphasis on developing boat speed, fast tacks, and good starts.

“This was the best clinic I have ever participated in,” says Galan. “The sailors were focused, the training was intense, and everyone had the right mental approach. It was impressive to see the sailors’ skill levels increase over the several days of the clinic.”

Younger sailors were matched with older more experienced sailors in addition to receiving training from the three coaches. The older sailors assisted with rigging and other sailing techniques.

Up and coming St. Croix sailor Lake Sanford says, “I learned so much just from watching the sailors at the top of the fleet.”

Similarly, nine-year-old Nathan Smith from St. Maarten adds, “I learned a lot from some of the older sailors. For example, one top BVI sailor showed me a great technique for downwind heeling, which I used in the regatta.”

Several families stayed in the cabins at Maho Bay Campground for both the clinic and the Championship. This made for a total five-day immersion in sailing.

“It was like being at sailing camp,” says St. Thomas sailor, Chloe Coffindaffer. “We had a lot of fun off the water, too.”

Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.

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Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.

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