Messing about on boats must be one of the most pleasurable ways to pass time in Cayman; glorious sunny weather most of the time, calm waters and great facilities. Water sport is a superb way of enjoying the island’s natural resources and sailing is one that’s getting so popular that a Cayman Olympic team could be challenging for medals soon.
Mike Weber is sailing director at the club in North Sound and the chief reason why children and adults alike are getting more involved than ever before. He says: ‘Sailing is an Olympic sport. Whenever you have a sport where the ultimate goal is winning gold at the Olympics you have to make sure that you’re developing the proper athletes.
‘At this point in our programme, we’re very early and the kids are novice racers, but we’re teaching them those core and raw skills that they need in order to develop into athletes. Although it’s a long way away we need to focus on that goal now. Our goal is to have some children who are ready to make an Olympic campaign for the 2012 London Olympics or the 2016 Games.’
Canadian Weber is from Ontario and been based in Cayman since 2001. He is also in charge of the sail training function. He has been sailing his whole life and coached for the last 15 years. Support from the government has been good as well as the private sector with backing from Butterfield, Scotiabank and Digicel amongst others.
Four times a year, every Saturday morning for six weeks he runs a programme for kids to race. Some are tiny, as young as five but within a short while they’re handling the boats by themselves like old pros. It’s very safe and well regulated; Weber monitors his little charges from a motor boat and there’s another safety boat on patrol at all times. Life jackets are compulsory. At only $10 a session, he barely breaks even, but such is his love of the sport, he does it anyway.
‘The Saturday morning programme involves children coming every weekend between 9am and 12. We have three or four races every Saturday and accumulate the points over the six weeks and then we determine the winners.
‘This programme is growing. We started in January 2006 with the realization that we needed more youth racing in Cayman. We started with only four boats on the water and today we broke our record with 20 boats racing.
‘It’s very popular, the kids love it. They like coming out, the competition and they look forward to learning and winning and pitting their skills so that they can go abroad and compete against other countries.’
Races are held in lasers, bytes, fevas, picos and optimists. They race around a course that takes about half an hour to complete and the three main categories are optimist (for the smallest), byte (teenagers) and feva (two person teens).
One avid sailor is Guillaune Hammersey, 17, who attends St Ignatius. He has a tattoo with an England flag and a French flag on his left shoulder, reflective of his background. ‘I was born in France then I lived in England for 13 years before moving here four years ago,’ he says.
‘I’ve been sailing for about two years. I started with the school course then started racing here on Saturday mornings and got really into it. Football is actually my No.1 sport but this is my No.2. Sailing is fun, it doesn’t take too much physical endurance and it’s competitive.’
Little Allena Rankine, seven, has been sailing for only three months. She moves around the boat fearlessly but may not have grasped exactly what the sport is about. ‘I love capsizing best because it’s fun,’ she laughs.
Pamela McDonough is the club’s social secretary. The Scot has lived on Grand Cayman for 13 years. Her children Rory, 15 and Elena, 14, love sailing. ‘They’ve been coming for a few years now,’ she says. ‘It took them a while to warm into it because I sailed first and they didn’t want to be part of what I was doing, but now they thoroughly enjoy it. Mike’s got a really good group of keen kids, all very happy and get on very well. They work hard and enjoy their sailing.
‘Sailing is now the No.1 sport for my kids and it would be great if they could qualify for the Olympics in five years’ time. There are a few kids here who have shown the commitment and desire to get that far.
‘I was just saying this morning to my visiting in-laws that there will be some kids from here in the Olympics soon because they really have got the drive and the facility now to actually achieve those goals.’
Sailing has the image of being a middle-class sport, enjoyed almost exclusively by wealthy people. Weber is now reaching a wider demographic. He adds: ‘I’m absolutely delighted that we’ve received funding from the government to provide sailing lessons for public school children. This is the second year we’ve done this and got 250 public school children coming in. That’s not only given us a much larger base of young athletes to start to work with, but most importantly it’s been able to diversify our sailing community to be more reflective of the population of Cayman Islands.’