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Optimist Sailors Return from Cool Trip


Five young Virgin Island sailors representing all three islands, traveled to Switzerland for two weeks in August to compete in the Optimist Worlds. There were 243 sailors representing 53 nations sailing in the Optimist eight-foot sailing dinghys. The event had an Olympic feel to it as the competitors marched in the opening ceremonies as a team, The Virgins Islands team wearing bright red and white tropical shirts and proudly carrying the Virgin Islands flag.
The venue was Lake Silvaplana, in St. Moritz, in the Upper Engadine Valley of Switzerland, surrounded by snow-capped mountains. The conditions were quite a bit different than what Virgin Islands sailors are used to. At an altitude of almost 6,000 feet, the air was less dense than at sea level, the lake was fresh water and crystal-clear and the water temperature was very cold. The kids felt the difference in their boats the minute they launched. Tyler Rice, age 13 from St. Thomas, said "the boat felt like it was sinking" compared to the buoyancy of the warm, salty Caribbean Sea. The kids also had to get used to wearing all their extra gear. The cold water and weather conditions required wearing multiple layers including long johns, extra shirts, dry suits, socks, boots, beanies and two pairs of gloves, a pair of sailing gloves over a pair of rubber dishwashing gloves, just to keep dry and warm.
Due to the large number of competitors, the sailors were split up into six groups, which then sailed against each other an equal number of times. Cruzan Billy Gibbons, age 12, said, "The competition at the Worlds was very tough, especially since we come from small fleet racing. I had some good starts but couldn’t keep the fleet behind me. And if you didn’t have a good start, there was no way you could win."
The team hired an experienced coach, Gillian Guiness, from Ireland. Said Ms. Guiness about the experience and the VI team, "It has been great to be involved with the team from the USVI at the Optimist Worlds in St. Moritz. They are a good group of sailors that have all shown potential. In sometimes cold and tricky conditions, they have sailed against some of the best sailors in the world in their age group. I think that they have all benefited from the experience and hopefully we will be reading about all of them in the future."
During a break in the racing schedule, the team explored the village of Pontresina and journeyed to the top of two mountains, Piz Nair and the Corvatsch (which was at an altitude of 10,837 feet). They played in the ice and snow, took a zip-wire ride across a glacial lake, and then enjoyed the fireworks shows for the Swiss National Holiday.
Besides the USVI, other Caribbean nations that sent sailors included Puerto Rico, Curacao, Dominican Republic and Trinidad, with one of the Trinidadian sailors placing number 2 at the event.
Alex Coyle, age 12 from St. John, summed it up by saying, "It was fun. I learned a lot and met a lot of people from all over the world."
The Virgin Islands Optimist team at the World Championship was
Alex Coyle (St. John)
Billy Gibbons (St. Croix)
Max Nickbarg (St. John)
Tyler Rice (St. Thomas)
Mimi Roller (St. John)
Gillian Guiness (Ireland), Coach
Karen Rice (St. Thomas), Team Parent
Susan Gibbons (St. Croix), Country Representative


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