New Junior Sailing Champion Wins By Half A Boat
It was the kind of competition you’d expect from a Kentucky Derby or a World Series — neck and neck with a winner breaking through by a nose or a single home run, but this was the Bahamas Junior Sailing Association Optimist National Championship and no one — least of all the sailors themselves — expected it to come down to half a boat length in the sixth race.
But that’s exactly what happened during the championship sailed in the waters off Grand Bahama October 1-2 when Queen’s College 7th grader Spencer Cartwright edged out his friend and rival Paul de Souza, a 7th grader from St. Andrew’s, to sail away with top honours as the new national champion in the Optimist fleet, a title that comes with a trophy and year-long bragging rights.
In a low point scoring system with racers allowed to throw out the worst score of the seven races so a final score is based on the six best performances, Cartwright finished the series with an impressive 11 points, beating de Souza, reigning novice fleet champion, by a single point. With 34 boats in the advanced fleet where de Souza was sailing for the first time, Cartwright and de Souza flip-flopped first place finishes in three of the six races — Cartwright taking two 1sts and a 2nd in races two, five and six, and de Souza finishing in a close 2nd in races two and six and first in race five.
“You rarely see such nail-biting competition at this level,” said Bahamas Sailing Association Instructor Robert Dunkley who accompanied the fleet to Grand Bahama and trains with them twice a week from their base at the Nassau Yacht Club.
“You’ve got 34 boats out there in the top three fleets and everyone is sailing well but at the front of the fleet there are these two boys, both the same age and among the younger contestants in the advanced fleet, just sailing unbelievably well, neck and neck, as if they are in a race of their own, trading 1st and 2nd places throughout. It really made for a very exciting series and I have to say that every single person who participated performed well. The kids all helped each other with their boats and equipment and there was great sportsmanship and camaraderie throughout the series.”
Defending champion Daniel Gibson, 15, a student at CR Walker came in third, just ahead of his friend and classmate Pedro Rahming. Gibson’s best finish was a 3rd place. He had two 4ths and two 5ths. His final score was 25 points. Rahming finished the series with 35 points.
In the novice green fleet, young Finley McDougally, one of five competitors from Cayman, took top honours. Finishing in a close second place was Ryan Mendes of Nassau who turned in an impressive performance with two first place finishes, a 3rd, two 4ths and a 5th. Melissa Higgins of Harbour Island finished third in the fleet of 42 boats, turning in the highest performance of any of the females. McDougally completed all six races with only 13 points, Mendes with 18 and Higgins with 20. Points went as high as 241 in the novice fleet.
Two lady sailors from Long Island also turned in impressive performances, according to Dunkley, Paloma Cartwright and Jessica Cartwright.
“A few things really stand out about this competition, the experience for many of the sailors to go to another island. Most had never been to Grand Bahama before,” said Dunkley, “and especially for those sailors from places like Governor’s Harbour and Harbour Island. The waters off Taino Beach were perfect. We had great cooperation from sponsors in Freeport, including the Grand Bahama Port Authority, Freeport Container Port, and MSC Shipping. But the takeaway lesson about Spencer and Paul is how their dedication paid off. Spencer leaves the (Nassau) Yacht Club after he puts his boat and sail up and goes home and studies strategy and tactics, he practices mentally how to win. Paul goes to the gym twice a week to build strength and stamina. They go the extra mile to prepare and they went the extra distance to win.”
Other sponsors from Nassau include Ministry of Tourism, Rotary, KFC, RBC, Odyssey, KPMG, The Mail Boat and Diane Phillips & Associates.
By Diane Phillips
Photos by Robert Dunkley