The Bahamas Sailing Association (BSA) has named a 16-member team that will defend home turf against 160 athletes from more than 20 countries at the 2019 Optimist North American Championship (OPTINAM) at Montagu Bay, in Nassau, The Bahamas, starting next month. The regional championship will run from September 27 to October 4. The Bahamian team features three Abaconians and five females.
The event is for juniors from ages 12-15 but younger sailors are allowed to participate.
Representing Team Bahamas will be Scarlett McCarroll, Mary Jac Nash, Jack Guinness (Abaco), Amy McSweeney, Saoirse Duffy, Patrick Tomlinson, Matthew Reid, Zane Munro, Maison Koepke (Abaco), Davis Huber, Jasmin Aberle (Abaco), Finley Lambert McKinney, Cameron Eldon, Craig Ferguson, Kaemen Floyd and Joshua Weech.
Weech will serve as the captain for the young sailors. The head coach will be Keir Clarke, and he will be assisted by Juan Carlos.
Clarke spoke highly of the team.
“Qualification has been tough, but it has been extremely fair – three regattas and what we’re looking at is the 16 best,” he said. “The senior members are absolutely honored. You’ve got Joshua Weech, three-time national champion. He’s been focusing this year on bigger events, so, he’s done worlds, he’s been to Bermuda, he’s done some other international clinics. On the big stage, the kids need the international regatta experience. Their boat handling and their skills are actually very, very good but you put these same Bahamian kids in a fleet with a hundred boats and it becomes very clear that we might not be as up there as the other nations. for example the Americans and the British. The senior members have a little more experience but for most part, this is just a first international event and hopefully the first of many. It’s going to provide a lot of inspiration and motivation toward future events,” added Clarke.
Clarke said he is impressed by the three sailors from Abaco.
“I think it’s amazing to have the three athletes from Abaco on the team because they haven’t necessarily been training with the New Providence guys. They’ve kind of been a complete wild card and they’ve come into our three regattas and they’ve blown us away by how good they’ve been. Full credit goes out to the guys in Abaco for their sailing and their training. What they bring to the team now is a very gentle and focused approach. I absolutely love the Abaco guys on the team,” Clarke said.
There were three qualifying events the youth sailors had to go through – the 2019 KPMG Winter Championships, the Bahamas Youth Olympic Regatta and the 2019 Optimist National Championships.
Weech, who sails with the Nassau Yacht Club, won all three of the qualifying events for the boys and the top sailor for the girls was Aberle out of Hope Town, Abaco.
“It feels really good. It’s always good to be on a team, I’m glad to represent The Bahamas at this event. I’m hoping to do my best, meet a lot of new people, make new friends. That’s always important,” Weech said. He is 13-years-old and is home-schooled. He added that they train about four days out of the week and he believes that they have a strong team this year.
Weech said that it’s a big responsibility being the captain but it feels good. He said that he embraces the important role that he plays.
Aberle said: “It feels great to be a part of the team especially since I’m from Abaco where there’s a lot less sailing, a lot less of a sailing community. We still have a lot of supporters and it feels great to be a part of the team.” She sails with the Hope Town Sailing Club out of Hope Town, Abaco.
As for how she thinks she will do, Aberle said: “I think I am going to do fairly well, but also, just mainly trying my best. Even if I don’t do as well as I want to, I’m hoping just to gain a great learning experience but at the same time try and do my best.”
Clarke, who coaches the Lyford Cay Sailing Club, said he is looking forward to the performances of all the sailors next month but signaled out a few to keep a close eye on.
“I am looking forward to seeing them all perform but in particular of course, Joshua. We have high hopes for him, we want him to finish really high up in the Gold Fleet and do us proud,” said Clarke. “We’ve got a couple of extremely talented young sailors. To name a couple, there’s Finley McKinney Lambert, he’s only nine-years-old and he’s already competing internationally, and then there is young Craig Ferguson. I’m pretty sure Finley will be a gold medalist one day or at the Olympic level. Ferguson is an amazing and focused individual and he is also very young. There is another boy, Cayman Floyd, who is only 10-years-old and absolutely on par with a 14-year-old world class sailor,” Clarke added.
Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture Lanisha Rolle challenged the young sailors to defend their home turf.
“You have the strong shoulders of Bahamian sailors who went before you to stand on and sail on. You will be competing right here at home and it should serve as an added boost for you knowing that you have family, friends and supporters who will be here to cheer you on every step of the way. This is your house. These are your waters and I dare you to adjust your sails to adjust the outcome,” Rolle said.
Minister Rolle also thanked Robert Dunkley and his team at the Bahamas National Sailing School for developing the sailing program and including young people. She added that her ministry is looking forward to working with the sailing community to advance the sport.
Representing the Ministry of Tourism was Frankie Campbell on behalf of Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar. Campbell, the Minister of Social Services and Urban Development, sent out a welcome to the visiting athletes and encouraged them to enjoy The Bahamas. In addition, he congratulated the parents of the sailors who always help to ensure the sailors are ready to practice and compete.
Barry Wilmott, regatta desk manager at the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources, let the young sailors know that representing The Bahamas is not to be taken lightly.
“I want you young sailors to know that we support you 150 percent. My minister, Michael Pintard, would like for me to say to you that you being a part of this team is no small feat. Your commitment, dedication, ability and willingness to go the extra mile earned you a spot on Team Bahamas,” Wilmott said.
The countries that will be in the water along with The Bahamas will be Antigua & Barbuda, Belize, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands (BVI), Canada, the Cayman Islands, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Mexico, the Netherlands Antilles, Puerto Rico, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, Trinidad & Tobago, the United States, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and six Non-American members of the International Optimist Dinghy Association (IODA).
The Bahamas was confirmed as host of the 2019 OPTINAM Championship at the IODA Annual General Meeting on September 3, 2018.
Last year’s OPTINAM was held in Vallarta Yacht Club, Riviera Nayarit, Mexico. It has become the largest youth regatta in North America and the Caribbean.
Jump Line – About 160 athletes from more than 20 countries are set to compete
Education: College of the Bahamas, BA Media Journalism