June 12, 2001 More than 80 sailors 7 to 15 years of age are registered to compete in the 9th annual Scotiabank International Optimist Regatta of St. Thomas's East End this weekend.
Competitors from 10 Caribbean islands, the U.S. mainland, Venezuela and Spain will take part in the event, presented by the V.I. Sailing Association and the St. Thomas Yacht Club and sponsored by Scotiabank.
Prior to the regatta on Friday through Sunday, the young sailors are participating in a three-day clinic on racing skills and boat speed that's being conducted by a team of international coaches.
"The Optimist is the primary training boat for many of the worlds best sailors," international judge Pat Bailey, a native St. Thomian, said. "At the 25th Olympics, former Optimist sailors won gold medals in every dinghy event sailed."
The Optimist, which is 8 feet long and has one sail, is a highly maneuverable, yet stable boat operated by a single sailor. More than 400,000 young people in more than a hundred countries are involved in Optimist competition, according to a release from the regatta organizers.
Marie Canfield, regatta director, who works with a large group of volunteers to organize the race, said the event has grown greatly since Scotiabank became involved six years ago. "Without our sponsors it would be impossible to imagine having this championship," she said. "We have to house and feed not only our competitors but their families, coaches and a team of international judges who are flown in for the regatta."
Co-sponsors, she said, include the Ritz-Carlton and Bolongo Bay resorts, Budget Rent-A-Car, Crowley American Transport and Theodore Tunick & Co.
Local sailors traditionally have done well in the competition. Last year's regatta winner was Cy Thompson, whose parents, Chris and Christine, and grandfather, Rudy, have been winning boat races in the Virgin Islands for decades. Thomas Barrows and Taylor Canfield also took home trophies in their respective classes.
Verian Aguilar, principal race officer, another local sailor, says the regatta is her favorite boating event. On St. Thomas, "I work with the kids all year developing their skills," she said, "and those efforts are always rewarded when I see how well they perform. We have made great strides forward in recent years, increasing the overall sailing level, and this regatta is one of the real driving factors in this growth."
The public is invited to the St. Thomas Yacht Club this weekend to "have some fun while watching some great dinghy racing," the release states. "The fact that all the participants are just kids makes the event even more special." The yacht club is located in Estate Nazareth on Cowpet Bay. For more information, call 775-6320.