The BoRinquen Islands Sailing Association (BRISA) is the largest sailing organization in the history of Puerto Rico. This non-profit corporation and affiliate of the Puerto Rico Sailing Federation is also the fastest growing sailing group on the island. Cruising and racing sailors, and even power boaters, are all among its members. The rapid growth and success of BRISA owes to a strong founding membership, the support of a wide range of boat-related activities and the planting of the organization’s roots in a number of neighborhoods throughout Puerto Rico.
“BRISA was founded seven years ago after a group of experienced sailors met to discuss the need for a new type of club that would be accessible and attractive to everyone in the sailing community, particularly family members,” explains Graham Castillo, commodore of BRISA Sur. “BRISA’s Corporate Charter and regulations were crafted by our First Commander, Master Captain Nelson Ramirez, who happens to be a Commercial Captain and highly experienced master scuba diver and instructor. Today he serves as the President of BRISA’s Board of Directors.”
BRISA currently boasts over 150 members plus their families. The organization footprint covers all of Puerto Rico in three commands – north, east and south.
“Our leaders are remarkable volunteers who understand that the secret of a successful life is to selflessly give your time, talents, and sometimes money for the benefit of others without expecting anything in return,” says Castillo. “That karma is the rich fuel that keeps the organization going. For example, in the south, we sponsor young athletes to sail who otherwise would not be able to participate in class regattas; we have also incorporated the Chalanas as a club fleet, and we are in the process of developing a Sailing Center.”
BRISA commodores host at least one activity each month except in June and July. In addition, there’s also the celebration of a Commodore’s Regatta and Vice-Commodore Regatta each year, plus the annual BRISA Cup, where each commodore rotates as regatta director. This year the BRISA Cup was renamed as the Ulysse Nardin ‘Festival of Sails’ in support of its sponsor.
“The term ‘Festival of Sails’ was chosen to better depict a highly competitive yachting contest highlighted by a historic onshore festivity,” says Castillo. “It was held at Puerto del Rey Marina in Fajardo during the Chrysler Caribbean International Boat Show. The regatta presented not only trophies to the winners of each class, but also over $50.000 in Ulysse Nardin watches.”
BRISA’s calendar not only encourages the island’s native Chalana fleet to race, but provides the structure needed to launch this tradition to a higher level of visibility and racing performance.
“Racing Chalanas was a dying sailing tradition in Salinas and Santa Isabel as they only raced once or twice a year,” says Castillo. “Last year they ran over six regattas and this year they have raced the BRISA West Commodore’s Regatta in January, the Chalana Festival in February, and the next one will be in July for the town’s ‘Fiestas Patronales’. Other than races, we motivate the owners to bring the boats out to picnics in Cabuzasos, an offshore key, as a yearly summer family activity.”
Encouraging the younger generation to sail is one of BRISA’s greatest challenges, says Castillo. “The first step is to engage the parents and make them part of the BRISA family. Many of them own or race Chalanas or live next to the Caribbean Sea, and/or own sailboats. We also provide them with opportunities to race in scheduled dinghy regattas. We also are actively sponsoring two athletes to compete in different regattas and one of them to become a Certified US Sailing Small Boat Instructor. In the long run, the Sailing Center’s Strategic Plan will give an opportunity to local leaders, parents, and sailors to concentrate in the development of new competitive athletes.”
The first such Sailing Center at Santa Isabel is a joint venture between the municipality led by the Mayor and BRISA. Its initial seven boat fleet of Lasers, Sunfish, and Optimist is powered by volunteers from the Ponce Yacht and Fishing Club.
“In years to come”, says Castillo, “we will see how sailing develops in equal terms with other activities such as soccer, basketball, baseball or other Olympic sports.”
For information, visit: www.brisaweb.net or ‘like’ BRISA on Facebook. For donations of boats, parts, or funds, call: 787 300-1600
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.