Following three intense qualifying events nationally, a team of 16 young sailors will represent The Bahamas at the 2019 Optimist North American Championships (OPTINAM 2019), set to be held September 27 to October 4, in the waters of Montagu Bay on the capital island of New Providence right here in The Bahamas.
Named to the team are Team Captain Joshua Weech, Kaemen Floyd and Craig Ferguson all from the Bahamas National Sailing School and the Nassau Yacht Club; female sailors Saoirse Duffy and Amy McSweeney, Cameron Eldon and Finley Labert McKinney from the Bahamas National Sailing School and the Royal Nassau Sailing Club; female sailor Jasmine Aberle and Maison Koepke from the Hope Town Sailing Club; female sailor Mary Jac Nash, David Huber and Patrick Tomlinson from the Lyford Cay Sailing Club; and female sailor Scarlett McCarroll, Zane Munro, Matthew Reid and Conry Raine from the Royal Nassau Sailing Club.
The 16 young sailors represent the largest team ever for The Bahamas at OPTINAM, and they will all be going after regional prominence right here in their local sailing waters.
Weech, a three-time national champion in the optimist class who just represented The Bahamas at the world championships in Antigua & Barbuda in July, said that he’s proud of the team and everyone who helped to make the event possible, particularly given the turmoil and hardships suffered by the country through the passing of Hurricane Dorian.
“No matter how this event goes, we know that it is going to be a great event,” said the 13-year-old sailor. “It’s going to be tough, but I believe that we have the team to put on a good show. We sail here four days out of the week, so it’s a great advantage for us. We know the waters and we know what to expect.”
The event, which is set to be the largest sailing regatta ever held in The Bahamas, and what is the largest junior sailing regatta in the region, will be hosted by the Nassau Yacht Club in conjunction with the Bahamas Sailing Association and the Bahamas National Sailing School. Over 160 young sailors from 20 countries will compete. Overall, over 500 people from around the region are expected to come to The Bahamas for this continental event.
“First of all, on behalf of all of us in the sailing community, I’d like to express our deepest sympathy to all who were impacted by the passing of Hurricane Dorian and our condolences go out to those who lost family members and friends. Our hearts go out to them all,” said Robert Dunkley, co-chairperson of the event and director of the Bahamas National Sailing School. “We are very proud to be hosting this event. These are some of the top junior sailors in the world and it is the largest class in the world. There are over 250,000 optimist sailors worldwide,” he said. “I’ve coached all of our kids, and I could tell you that they’re very talented. They are our future and they are dedicated to the sport. All of them want to go to the Olympics. They are going out there to do their best and we are looking for some inspired performances. No matter how they do we are all going to be extremely proud of them.”
Dunkley said they considered canceling the hosting of this event because of the devastation caused by Hurricane Dorian to the northern Bahamas, but through consultation and encouragement, they decided to continue. The regular age standard for competition is 12-15 years. Dunkley said the International Optimist Dinghy Association (IODA), the international governing body for the optimist class, has allowed them to have kids as young as nine-years-old participate in this regatta.
The opening ceremony for OPTINAM 2019, which is a qualifier for the world championships, is set for Saturday, September 28. Following that, there will be five days of sailing – the initial series races from September 29-30 featuring three fleets, the team racing (five sailors per team) on October 1, and fleet racing (finals) from October 2-3. The sailors will be categorized into the gold, silver and bronze fleets based on the results from the first two days of sailing. Presentation of awards will be held on the evening of October 3.
Weech, who has sailed in four international regattas in his young career, said he is very excited to reunite with some of his sailing friends from around the region.
“We get to meet a lot of new people and make friends which is super important,” he said. “It’s always fun to meet new people and it’s a lot of fun at these events. It’s fun racing against them and the competition is really good.”
Kaemen Floyd, 10, will be sailing in his first OPTINAM regatta. He said it’s going to be tough, but added that he is ready for the challenge.
Conry Raine, 12, said he’s been training hard with Team Bahamas and he’s optimistic that the team will perform well.
Jasmine Aberle, 14, is one of two young sailors from hurricane-ravaged Abaco. She’s looking forward to competing.
“I feel great to still be able to do this event for Abaco and for The Bahamas. It shows how we [could push through tough times and continue with our lives,” she said. “I think I’m going to do fairly well, but I’m a bit nervous. I’ll do my best and have fun.”
Maison Koepke, 13, also hails from Hope Town, Abaco. He is also looking forward to competing.
“It’s good to be here because it’s like a distraction from what’s happening back home (Abaco). I’m excited and I’m looking forward to doing well.”
Team leader out of Hope Town Rhiannon Thomas said they thank God for sparing their lives through the hurricane, and they send their well-wishes and regards to all who were affected by the passing of the storm.
“We were fortunate not to lose anyone in Hope Town, but our hearts go out to the rest of Abaco and Grand Bahama,” she said. “We’re super excited and really happy to have this distraction at the moment. We have a great group of kids and I’m really looking forward to working with them. It’s really important that we represent Abaco and all of The Bahamas well to show that we are a resilient country, and that we will get through this together.”
Co-chairperson of the event Chandra Parker, also The Bahamas’ representative to IODA, said this is a huge undertaking for them and they’re grateful to have the support from the Nassau Yacht Club, the Bahamas Sailing Association, the Bahamas National Sailing School, and all of their sponsors.
“We have had a challenging year for our junior athletes. They have gone through three qualifying events and are here now ready to compete,” said Parker. “Our sailors have done a lot of clinics and extra training and it has been very rigorous for them. Also, we have had a number of people reaching out to us asking if we could still do this given what we went through with Hurricane Dorian. It was hard to make that decision but it meant so much to our kids to continue with this. We just hope that this event will help to bring attention to The Bahamas and also bring further assistance to The Bahamas and show that The Bahamas is still open and able to welcome visitors to these shores. We’re very grateful for all the international assistance as well.”
Commodore of the Nassau Yacht Club Adam Darville echoed those sentiments.
“The board had a lot of deliberations on whether or not to have this event, but at the end of the day we decided that this would be a good time for healing and we decided to move forward with this. The Nassau Yacht Club is very proud of what is going on here and we look forward to a great event,” he said.
The International Optimist Dinghy is the largest sailing fleet and the number one junior class in the world.
“Over the past 60 years, the optimist dinghy has been the class that most World and Olympic Champions started their sailing career,” said co-chairperson Dunkley. “At the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 85 percent of all competitors in the sailing competition started sailing in the optimist dinghy.”
Dunkley went on to thank all of their sponsors and partners who have come on board for this major event – too numerous to mention.
He expects an inspired performance from Team Bahamas.