This year's Bahamas Optimist National Championship was held in front of the Taino Beach Resort in Freeport, an ideal venue for any major sailing championship. With sailing right off the beach in beautiful turquoise waters and light to moderate winds, the young sailors were good to go and eager for the competition ahead.
Seventy six participants came from Freeport, Nassau, Long Island, Harbour Island, Governor's Harbour, Abaco and even Cayman Islands, delighting the event organizer, the Grand Bahama Sailing Club with their determination to sail, despite the hurdles encountered by Hurricane Irene.
Optimist sailors are split into either Green or Championship fleets depending on their skill level and the Championship Fleet is then split into White, Blue & Red according to the sailors age.
The 34-boat Championship Fleet saw extremely close racing with Nassau Yacht Club's Junior members Spencer Cartwright and Paul de Souza (2010 Green Fleet Champion) battling it out for top honours. While almost constantly neck and neck from start to finish, race six of seven in the series saw Cartwright beat de Souza by half a boat length to clinch the title. With the chance to drop one race, no matter what position Cartwright took, he would still be the winner and in the end he beat out de Souza, by one point only, taking the title of National Champion with 11 points to de Souza's 12 points.
The best of friends, these two sailors have been competing against and practicing with each other for over a year. From the very beginning Cartwright informed de Souza that friendship aside, he felt he would prevail in 2011 to be National Champion, having come in second for the past two years. Despite being only 12 years old, Cartwright, with three years sailing under his belt and de Souza with a mere one year 's experience, raced in the 11 and 12 year old group while still managing to beat all others who competed up to age 15.
With many other sailors "knocking on the door" and ably challenging, Cartwright was aware that smarts and speed would be needed to win this championship. Thinking your way around the course every second of the way is what's required to win and after an hour of such effort, you are mentally exhausted. Your head is constantly "out of the boat" looking for the next good puff while continually adjusting your sail trim and making sure you are in a favourable position relative to your nearest competitors. This kind of focus, concentration and mental work is what it takes to be competitive and many of these young sailors have the goods.
While younger and less experienced, the Green Fleet racing was also close. Sailing a much shorter basic triangle course, all 42 sailors fought just as hard to win as those in the Championship Fleet. For those needing assistance to get around the course, coaches were there to help, but only those sailors at the back of the fleet. Great fun and so inspiring to see beginner sailors doing so well with special kudos to all the coaches (mainly interested parents) for their time and efforts teaching these kids.
The Grand Bahamas Sailing Club with major community support gave these 76 youth sailors a taste of what it means to attend major regattas, compete, make friends and see new things.