V.I. Optimist Dinghy Association sailors, above, will race on St. John this weekend.
While adult sailors battle it out in Coral Bay harbor over Thanksgiving weekend, local Optimist sailors will be going head to head in a regatta of their own over at Maho Bay.
The V.I. Optimist Dinghy Association is hosting its inaugural event Thanksgiving week right here on St. John. The sailing action starts on Wednesday, November 23, which is the first day of a three-day clinic hosted by top notch visiting coaches.
The VIODA Championship regatta will run all day Saturday, November 26, and half a day on Sunday, November 27, followed by an award’s ceremony. Red, blue, white and green fleet sailors will complete a seven leg course in the Maho Bay area.
VIODA was organized by a group of parents of optimist sailors who were looking for a little more coaching than what was offered by local non-profit groups, explained Joyce McKenzie.
“We basically organized to hire some higher level coaching talent, most of which is available in Argentina” said McKenzie, a VIODA member. “We got together to bring this talent to the Virgin Islands to provide the next step for the racing skills for the kids in the area.”
Most sailors begin learning how to sail on an optimist, a small single-handed sailing dinghy, but eventually outgrow the vessel and begin racing in laser radials, lasers and 420s.
For students at the optimist level, VIODA offers local sailors a chance to improve their skills and face off against international talent.
“There are a certain number of kids who are interested and have the support to travel and compete at the international level and on an international circuit,” said McKenzie.
VIODA was loosely formed four years ago, but officially incorporated last year and the Maho regatta is the group’s first.
“This is the first time that we’ve put an event together,” said McKenzie. “We were in Maho Bay in September and we joined up with some people from the BVI and had a little adventure sail. We towed some boats over and had some kids from the BVI and we all spent a day and a night at Maho.”
“That is what spurred the idea for the regatta,” she said. “It’s a great sailing venue and a great place for kids.”
With Argentinian coach Santiago Galan on hand, VIODA members decided to host a clinic for optimist sailors as well, McKenzie added.
“The idea was born to do a clinic which is a great format for intensive instruction,” she said. “We have 17 kids registered already for the three day clinic and we have coaches able to instruct each of the different sailing levels.”
A sailing instructor from the St. Croix Yacht Club will lead green fleet sailors while Galan and fellow Argentinian Damian Saponara will led the red, blue and white fleet clinics. After the sailing clinic wraps up on Friday afternoon, sailors will get ready to hit the waves on Saturday morning, November 26, for the first day of racing.
“Racing starts on Saturday after registration and a skipper’s meeting,” said McKenzie. “It looks like we’ll have about 20 boats. We’ll race a half a day on Sunday and then have the awards ceremony.”
The VIODA Championship is also a qualifier for the International Optimist Dinghy Association’s South American Championships in Argentina in April.
Even for optimist sailors who don’t finish at the top of their fleets, the regatta is a great chance for local kids to sail against and learn from top sailors.
“There is a group of kids who do the North American and South American Championships and we even have two kids who are heading to New Zealand to compete,” said McKenzie. “Just to have the chance to sail with these more experienced kids will be a huge opportunity for them.”
For more information about the VIODA Championship at Maho Bay November 26 an 27, contact McKenzie at firstname.lastname@example.org.