The biggest ever Optimist North American Championship opens today on the beautiful island of Tobago, the first time the event has been hosted in the Caribbean. 184 sailors from 19 countries will participate.
Competitors will include representatives of eight Caribbean islands. First time participants include the Dominican Republic, St Vincent and, following a change in IODA eligibility conditions, France represented by sailors resident in the Americas.
The largest contingent is the U.S.A. with an allocation of 30 sailors.Selected on the basis of trials it includes sailors from 13 states ranging from California to Rhode Island. David LIEBENBERG from San Francisco is in fact believed to be the first west coast sailor to qualify for the event.
Hosts Trinidad & Tobago, which only started to compete five years ago, have fielded a team of 27 sailors including the best-ranked American sailor of 2004 (yes, from Trinidad!) Matthew SCOTT who finished seventh in last year's Worlds. But he faces strong competition from reigning champion Elijah SIMMONS (Bermuda), 2005 South American open champion Diego REYES (Mexico) and, this being the Optimist Class, maybe someone with no previous track record.
Separate prizes are awarded for 'open' (including South American) sailors and here the Peruvians, placed 2, 3, 4 in the South American Championship must fancy their chances.
When it comes to the team racing event on Wednesday reigning champions Bermuda look strong favourites.