After 17 individual races in a 3-day sailing regatta, the Sail Caribbean crew agreed that the best explanation of the sport came from team coach Scott Barnhill: “Racing sailboats is like driving a NASCAR vehicle while playing chess,” Scott explains, “You can go as fast as you want, but if you aren’t going in the right direction and thinking about tactics, you might as well be anchored.”
This past weekend six Sail Caribbean students got to try their hand at racing when they participated in the British Virgin Islands KATS Premier’s Cup International Youth Regatta, a two day-long IC24 one design regatta. The teams of ages 18 and under hailed from Caribbean nations including Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Trinidad & Tobago, the Bahamas, and the Cayman Islands, with Sail Caribbean representing the USA. Before the race our team had two days of coaching from staff members Kat Stanley-Whyte and Scott Barnhill, who have raced and coached in several locations around the world.
Though the Sail Caribbean students had already gained a huge amount of sailing knowledge from their time on fleet with the regular summer programs, racing encompasses many additional skills. “After three weeks cruising the Caribbean, you’d think you’d know about all there is to know about sailing,” said Morgan, who was one of the jib trimmers during the regatta, “but that is definitely false.” Racing smaller 24-foot boats means that sail trim adjustments and steering must be extremely precise, necessitating the use of lines that are not normally used when cruising for fun. During the race, boats maneuver within very close proximity to each other, placing huge responsibility on the helmsman and tacticians to avoid collisions and faults. And this doesn’t even include the host of racing-specific maneuvers such as clean starts, tactics, upwind sailing, boat speed, mark rounding, and finding lay lines that the team had to pick up in about 6 hours of on the water practice. Of the 6 crewmembers on the boat, only Edwin and Jordan had raced before (in last year’s Premier’s Cup); for Ali, Josh, Emily, and Morgan, Saturday marked their first race ever.
But despite the time crunch and having very little previous racing experience, the students did an impressive job handling their boat and becoming a smoothly working unit. Sail Caribbean stresses the importance of communication when on boats, and once in the racing mindset the students realized why. “If one person doesn’t do their job on the boat, it all falls apart,” says Josh, who was the helmsman, “I think we all learned that racing is extremely teamwork and communication focused. Everyone has to know what’s happening everywhere on the boat all the time. You can’t stop talking – everyone depends on the other people in the boat.”
Over the course of the races, the coaches saw vast improvement in the team’s performance. By the end, the team was becoming much more comfortable with their boat handling and successfully applying the tactics the coaches introduced. “It was great to see them becoming more confident and making decisions on their own,” says coach Kat.
“I loved the racing mindset,” says Jordan, who managed the mainsail on the boat. “It’s fun to add a competitive aspect to sailing. It was very intense.” But it wasn’t all work and no play: sailing is a uniquely social sport, which made the experience all the more rewarding. The crews of all the boats camped out in tents at Nanny Cay for three nights, giving different crews a chance to get to know each other. “We called it ‘The Village,’” noted Ali, who was a tactician along with Emily. In the evenings, the Sail Caribbean students loved mingling and hanging out with crews from the Cayman Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Bahamas. The common bond – sailing – made it very easy for teams to connect across nations, and the students agreed that the regatta atmosphere was one of the best parts of the weekend. While sailing downwind during the last race of the series, the US team found themselves having a Bob Marley sing-a-long with the BVI team, and the students laugh about getting hit by two of the bigger squalls of the summer during regatta practice. This positive attitude rain or shine didn’t go without recognition: the Sail Caribbean students took home the regatta’s Mackie Sportsmanship Award. “From the moment they arrived, they were completely relaxed and super friendly,” said the Race Committee, “They just let everyone know how much fun they were having.”
It’s always a big leap to step completely out of your comfort zone, but the Sail Caribbean regatta team proved that it’s not only a rewarding experience, but also a blast! Congratulations to the 2012 Premier’s Cup participants!