The RenaissanceRe Junior Gold Cup is set to begin on Thursday but today, the world’s best young Opti sailors, ages 11 to 15, set out in Bermuda’s Hamilton harbor for a first practice race. Meeting each other on the water and on the docks for the first time today, these youngsters come from all corners of the world – from the arid climate of Mexico to the sheep farms of New Zealand to the hills of Wales and are true ambassadors of their sport.
'It is fantastic to have such a tremendous group of high quality junior sailors here at the RenRe Junior Gold Cup as they represent the potential future Argo Group Gold Cup skippers,' said event chairman Brian Billings. 'It is at this level and in these boats that a number of young sailors got their start and Russell Coutts is just one example.'
Additionally, with sailors from Finland, Sweden, Poland, Australia and beyond, these young Opti sailors will really have an epic week of racing here. For the international sailors, learning the waters of Bermuda, practicing and improving their English, meeting other sailors from all over the world, and facing high level competition is a lot to juggle, but like true champions these kids are taking it all in stride and are eager to get started.
The Jr Gold Cup is like a championship of champions one young sailor pointed out. 'For me this is different than any other event because you have the very best person in each country,' said Odile Van Aanholt of the Netherland Antilles. 'I have raced in world events but you usually don’t have so many of the world’s best all together at the same time.'
Eleven of the seventeen sailors are national champions. Fourteen will represent their country in the 2011-12 Opti Worlds in New Zealand. Bermuda will be represented as well. For Matthew Whitfield of Cardiff, Wales, this is the first time he has ever been to Bermuda and he is really looking forward to meeting the competition on the water.
'I was really pleased and excited to be invited this year,' Whitfield said. 'I won the overall event in Britain and it really meant a lot that they contacted me. I think I worked hard to get here.' Whitfield, 14, also races in other types of boats and his goal here is to meet and sail against the worlds’ best and that happens to be in Optimist dinghies. 'I have been sailing in 470s more and more at home but I really want to race these particular sailors. It is the sailors here today that I am really thinking about.'
For Leonard Takahashi-Fry, who grew up on a sheep farm in New Zealand, he says he is nervous but ready. 'I am not sure why I am so nervous but I want to do well. I think it is going to be exciting and I hope for stronger winds.'
Because the sailors range in age from 11 to 15, their height and weight do make a big difference in the outcome of the race. As the younger, smaller sailors are hoping for light air, the taller, older sailors favor heavy breeze. Coming from such varied places, both boys and girls sailing here today have experienced all kinds of conditions.
'The level here is world class and the best you will see for this age group,' said Royal Bermuda Yacht Club sailing director Tom Herbert-Evans. 'The great thing about this sport is that we have girls and boys competing equally and that is a testament to the sport of sailing as it is a very equal sport. They are all athletes and it is a very mental game.'
For Bermuda sailors, youth sailing is growing and the potential for a break out performance is there. Five of the Bermuda sailors out of the nearly 40 competing will also qualify to attend the Opti world championships to take place in New Zealand later this year.
'Youth sailing is growing in Bermuda, thanks in part to high profile events like the RenRe Jr Gold Cup and our local sailors ability to succeed amongst the best in the world,' said event chairman of the Junior Gold Cup Somers Cooper.
'The continued support from the corporate community and the local clubs are also key ingredients.' Cooper added. 'The future of youth sailing in Bermuda has never looked brighter.'