The Renaissance Re Junior Gold Cup is set to get underway this Thursday, October 4th and already most of the sixteen international competitors from fifteen countries and many of the 22 Bermudian competitors have been out practicing on the Great Sound. While the site of a fleet of Optimist dinghies heading out to deep water is always impressive, the myriad of countries represented on the boats really offers a glimpse as to how wide ranging Opti sailing is.
Nicolai Sehested (DEN) a former Renaissance Re Junior Gold Cup skipper beat Bjorn Hansen in their Qualifying round robin match Group 2 sailed on Day 1 of the Argo Group Gold Cup, Stage 7 of the Alpari World Match Racing Tour.
Yet, for these Junior Gold Cup sailors –this may also be the start of a legacy of competitive sailing. The RenaissanceRe Junior Gold Cup is now celebrating its 10th year with Renaissance Re as its title sponsor. Some of the sailors who first came here as youngsters are back. As adults Lance Fraser of Bermuda, Taylor Canfield of the USVI and Nicolai Sehested of Denmark are all racing here in the Argo Group Gold Cup. All three are skippers racing now for some of the $100,000 in Gold Cup prize money and a spot for their name on the King Edward VII Gold Cup.
That is the legacy of an event that has consistently invited promising young sailors who are 13 or 14 years old to compete and make their first real debut in professional level sailing where they meet sponsors, professional competitors from their home country racing in the Argo Group Gold Cup. They also get the rare opportunity to race in the warm waters of Bermuda – something that is hard to forget.
'We are delighted to be celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Junior Gold Cup – an event for which RenaissanceRe has been the founding and sole sponsor since its inception. The event draws young sailors of the highest caliber from all over the world, while showcasing Bermuda and celebrating a sport that has long been a part of the island’s heritage,' said Neill Currie, CEO of RenaissanceRe. 'It has been particularly rewarding over the years to recognize some of the sailors we sponsored as juniors taking part in the adult event.'
Danish skipper Nicolai Sehested still recalls his time as a youngster sailing here in the Junior Gold Cup in 2003.
'To this day I still talk about coming to Bermuda and sailing here when I was 13, said Sehested, who is sailing in his first ever Argo Group Gold Cup this year as skipper. 'I never forgot meeting Danish sailors Jasper Radich and Jes Gram-Hansen who were my sailing heroes back then and today I actually compete with them in various regattas.' Sehested is also coaching youth sailors himself and is keeping a close eye on the two Danish sailors competing here in the Junior Gold Cup.
'I tell the junior sailors to pay attention while they are here because they might find themselves coming back in 10 years to match race,' Sehested said.
Taylor Canfield of the USVI has now sailed in three Argo Group Gold Cup competitions. He first came here and raced against young Nickolai in 2003. At that time, his sailing hero was USVI sailing legend Peter Holmberg who has remained a mentor and a good friend.
'I sailed here at age 13 in the Junior Gold Cup and it was kind of a life altering experience because I started to really want to become a match racing sailor,' said Canfield, 23, who heads up the Chicago Match Racing Center in Chicago. Canfield also hopes that during this week’s Gold Cup that he qualifies for a wild card spot at the Monsoon Cup, the final event on the World Match Racing Tour. 'If you want something enough or like it enough, it is important to follow your passion and I really began finding that out when I came here as a youngster,' Canfield said. 'Talent is important but doing something over and over again helps you win.'
For Bermudians Lance Fraser and 2012 Olympian Jesse Kirkland who are competing now in their third Argo Group Gold Cup, starting as Junior Gold Cup Opti sailors had a big impact on them. I think young sailors should take advantage of every opportunity in sailing.' Lance Fraser said. 'It didn’t seem quite real to me then but it is really a great experience. What is cool for me now is that people like Taylor and Nickolai are now people I sail against in different regattas, they are colleagues and now friends, too.'
There is no doubt that after 10 years, the Junior Gold Cup is shaping futures and leaving a lasting impact on young people – who seem to never lose their love for Bermuda.
Top ranked Danish Optimist sailor Kristian Praest will be racing in the 10th Anniversary Renaissance Re Jr Gold Cup in Hamilton, Bermuda Oct 4-7, 2012. Credit Laurie Fullerton
RenRe Junior Gold Cup website