The St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John Yacht Clubs are recognized for producing first-rate regattas and world-class sailors. However, far fewer folks realize that the driving force behind sailing in the USVI is the Virgin Islands Sailing Association (VISA), of which each of the yacht clubs is a member. VISA, the volunteer organization that oversees all of the territoriessailing, is a Member National Authority (MNA) and the International Sailing Federation (ISAF). VISA is also a founding member and one of the USVI’s 23 sports federations that make up the Virgin Islands Olympic Committee (VIOC), which in turn is a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The real story of VISA lies in its longevity, time-tested success and example it offers for other MNAs.
“VISA is the role model for MNAs in the Caribbean,” says Julie San Martin, VISA’s vice-president and one of five members that make up VISA’s board. “This is because the organization represents nearly 50 years of sailor involvement making VISA even older than the CSA handicap rule.”
Rudy Thompson started VISA in the 1960s thus enabling the USVI to send sailors to the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. The USVI has had sailors in every Olympics since with the exception of the 1980 Games in Russia and is the only Caribbean island nation whose sailors have won Olympic medals: Peter Holmberg a Silver Medal in the Finn in the 1988 Olympics in Korea, and Ian Barrows a Gold Medal at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore sailing the Byte II.
VISA’s presidents have continually expanded the organization’s scope. Thompson hosted the first Sunfish Worlds. Dick Johnson and Bill Canfield hosted three maxi regattas and a 50’s class regatta in the 1980s, which raised $60,000 for VISA’s war chest. During this same decade VISA hosted an ISAF mid-year meeting, which was attended by executives such as King Constantine of Greece and Prince Albert of Monaco. Henry Menin, Peter Holmberg and Nick Castruccio took over VISA’s helm successively for several years and introduced the Optimist dinghy and match racing. Phillip Shannon now serves as VISA’s president.
“Optimist sailors are introduced to the program if they show talent. The introduction is by the fleet captain, coach, or direct contact from the VISA board. A sailor’s association with VISA continues through adulthood. We are fortunate that our athletes ‘pay back’ by working for the organization after aging out of active small boat competition; a key strength,” San Martin explains.
The VISA board has created a four tiered status or rating system for VI sailors that are resume and results driven. A sailor submits his/her sailing resume each June to VISA’s vice president and is deemed: A (Olympic Status); B (International Status); C (National Status) or D (Local Status) for the purpose of monetary distribution. The organization is currently funding 12 sailors, the most qualified sailors at any one time in VISA’s history. These stipends collectively total around $20,000 with Olympic athletes receiving additional monies from sources such as the VIOC and ISAF through VISA’s association.
VISA wears many hats. For example, sailors who wish to compete in Regional, National or Continental Championships, or the Olympics, must notify VISA which will organize qualifiers, if necessary, and assist in other leg and paperwork. Additionally, VISA sanctions all USVI regattas. If there is a dispute about a judge’s decision in a race, the appeal comes through VISA. VISA also sponsors two events: the International Optimist Regatta and the Carlos Aguilar Match Race. VISA’s smaller roles include recommending qualified prospects to ISAF for committees or for on the water official roles.
“Form a MNA,” suggests San Martin as to how the over 30 countries that make up the Caribbean can help foster competitive sailing throughout the region. “Affiliate with your local Olympic Committee, ISAF and the Caribbean Sailing Association (CSA). The most difficult part, and to keep the organization going, is to treat the volunteers, who perform, well (a ‘thank you’ goes a long way), and weed out the do nothings … Great advice, but not always easy
For more information, visit: www.virginislandssailingassociation.com
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.