Cayman Islands youth sailors crowned Caribbean champions

Two young local sailors have returned to the Cayman Islands in triumphant mood after defeating competitors from across the region in the 15th Annual Scotiabank Caribbean International Optimist Regatta at the St Thomas Yacht Club in the United States Virgin Islands.

Action on the high seas

Action on the high seas during the Scotiabank Caribbean International Optimist Regatta. Photo: Dean Barnes

After four days of racing, Elliot Vernon finished first and Camilo Bernal second in the ‘Green’ fleet of Optimist boats, a fleet for sailors in their first year of racing. The field contained 23 competitors from 10 countries in the Caribbean and North America.

The Cayman Islands Sailing Club (CISC) and National Sailing Centre, where the boys learned and sharpened their skills, said the result showed that sailing continued to be arguably the one sport at which Cayman Islands residents can be most competitive.

‘This was my first international regatta,’ said Elliot, who recorded two first places and eight second places in the 16 races. ‘What I like best about ‘Opti’ sailing is going fast, meeting new people and travelling.’

He and Camilo, who recorded five first-places in the races, were among a four-strong youth team that represented Cayman at the regatta. Niklas Wolfe had a solid regatta, finishing 16th overall, while Matthew Courtis, racing in the more experienced ‘Blue’ fleet, came 20th out of 35.

The boys’ success was hailed by Scotiabank, the financial institution that sponsors the Cayman Islands’ youth sailing team. ‘Congratulations go out to the team and we are very proud of their achievement,’ said Cathy MacLean, Manager of the bank’s Scotia Centre branch.

The CISC also extended its thanks to departing coach Marisa Bailey and team chaperone Caroline Courtis as well as Scotiabank for its support.

Michael Weber, the CISC’s Sailing Director, said the club was delighted with the success of the sailors at their first international regatta.

He continued: ‘The results tell us two things: first, that the changes made to our programmes two years ago – the core skills we emphasise in training, the added lessons and racing time – are working; and second, it affirms our position that sailing is the sport at which Cayman can be most competitive at an international level.’

Mr Weber added: ‘We seem to sit behind other sports in terms of importance, but I hope that our success at this event will show parents and children that commitment to sailing produces winners.’

The 15th Annual Scotiabank Caribbean International Optimist Regatta is the largest regatta of its kind in the Caribbean. This year saw a record 95 sailors aged eight to 15 representing teams from the US, Canada, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the US Virgin Islands, Barbados, Curacao, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobago and the Dominican Republic as well as the Cayman Islands.

Junior sailors were grouped into five advanced and beginner fleets, and the advanced fleet was further divided into age groups. The overall winner was Fernando Monllor of Puerto Rico. A team from St Thomas walked away with a team award.

The regatta week kicked off with a three-day clinic led by six internationally-respected sailing coaches from South America. US Virgin Islands Governor John deJongh welcomed the sailors at the opening reception. This was followed by social activities that ranged from bingo to firewalkers, limbo dancing and steel pan music.

At eight feet long and with a single sail, the Optimist dinghy used by the sailors in the regatta is arguably the most popular sailboat in the world for children and the most actively raced boat in the world. Most of the medallists at the Summer Olympic Games in Athens in 2004 started sailing the ‘Opti’ when they were young.

For more information on the Cayman Islands Sailing Club, please contact club manager Heather Bradley at [email protected].

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