They say practice makes perfect. Well, perfect bullets they didn’t quite sail; however, weeks of intensive sailing instruction with ace South American coaches surely did pay off for Virgin Islands’ and Puerto Rican sailors, six of whom scored top ten finishes at the U.S. Optimist National Championships, held July 24-28 at the Sarasota Yacht Club, Sarasota, Florida.
The event officially kicked-off with the Girls’ National Championships, a one-day, four-race regatta that saw 93 competitors take their starts. Winds were a light four to eight knots and shifty, not what Caribbean sailors are used to experiencing, yet St. Thomas’ Nikki Barnes finished 9 th overall and St. Croix’s Challis Diaz ended 52 nd. Barnes had just come from competing in the Optimist North American Championships, in Ponce, Puerto Rico, while this was Diaz’s first time sailing outside the Caribbean.
The next day, 350 sailors—hailing from all four corners of the U.S. mainland, the Caribbean, Bermuda, Sweden, England and Canada—took to the waters of Sarasota Bay for the start of the U.S. Optimist National Championships. Mother Nature opened the event with a whimper and ended with a bang. After waiting on the beach for over an hour for the breeze to fill in, and ultimately blow to the point of sending white caps across the bay, sailors raced non-stop until 6 p.m. St. Croix’s Billy Gibbons, St. Thomas’ Ian Barrows, Alec Taylor and Nikki Barnes, Tortola’s Alex Anderson and Puerto Rico’s Raul Rios all had finishes in the top ten of the fleet.
The next day, consistent sailing paid off for Puerto Rico’s Rios who took over the fleet lead in the one and only race of the day. He never won a race but was in the top five in the three races the first day and one the second. The light winds in the wake of heavy thunderstorms proved a real asset to this 85-pounder.
Racing was canceled the third day due to a heavy bank of thunderstorms that blew through. In an effort to make up for the downtime, the Race Committee got the fleet back out on the bay by 8 a.m. the next morning. Winds started at six to eight knots, yet a big shift that overtook the fleet midway through the racing caught many of the leaders by surprise and led to their finishes deep within the pack.
Ultimately, Puerto Rico’s Rio won the Blue Fleet and took 3 rd Overall. The BVI’s Alec Anderson finished 7 th in the 13- to 15-year old Red Fleet and finished 9 th Overall. St. Croix’s Billy Gibbons ended 9 th in the Red Fleet and 13 th Overall. St. Thomians Ian Barrows, Nikki Barnes and Alec Taylor finished 19 th, 22 nd and 25 th overall and 6 th, 9 th and 10 th in the Blue Fleet, respectively. Meanwhile, St. Thomas’ Addison Hackstaff finished 8 th in the Beginner Green fleet, and accomplished this feat with a first place finish in the second race of the series.
U.S. and British Virgin Islands’ and Puerto Rican sailors will keep training this fall, with a delegation of these talented juniors setting their sites on the Optimist World Championships in Uruguay in November.
CARIBBEAN SAILOR’S RESULTS
OVERALL – RED, WHITE AND BLUE FLEET
3. Raul Rios, Club Nautico de San Juan
9. Alec Anderson, Royal BVI Yacht Club
13. Billy Gibbons, St. Croix Yacht Club
19. Ian Barrows, St. Thomas Yacht Club
22. Nikki Barnes, St. Thomas Yacht Club
25. Alec Taylor, St. Thomas Yacht Club
68. Alex Coyle, St. John KATS
202. Challis Diaz, St. Croix Yacht Club
245. Kyle Brego, St. John KATS
OVERALL – GREEN FLEET
8. Addison Hackstaff