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Looking back on the Pensacola YC's 2018 U.S. Optimist Nationals

by Troy Gilbert with Talbot Wilson 25 Jul 2018 05:13 PDT 13-22 July 2018
The Lauderdale YC Team 1, reigning Opti Team Race Champions, took first place overall at the USODA 2018 Optimist Team Race National Championship sailed out of Pensacola Yacht Club. © Talbot Wilson

At the Optimist Team Race National Championship prize giving, the final event of a three-event, ten-day, 168-race optimist marathon, Pensacola Yacht Club Commodore James Reeves remarked, "I know these young sailors had a fantastic time and were truly out there racing hard and having fun. I hope they tell all their friends about the fantastic racing on Pensacola Bay and the southern hospitality of Pensacola Yacht Club. We're proud to have hosted them this year."

Hailing from Canada, Great Britain, Denmark, Mexico, Brazil, Puerto Rico, the U.A.E., Australia, U.S. Virgin Islands and the U.S.A., 298 different junior sailors competed for eight days in an epic 2018 USODA Optimist National Championship to determine the Overall, Girls and Team Racing champions. With the oak lined grounds of Pensacola Yacht Club at times resembling a sort of colorful vagabond child army encampment and the steel blue waters of Pensacola Bay their battlefield, these kids gave their all through varying wind conditions and sea states to showcase and hone their skill sets.

Fresh off his 40 point win at the Optimist North Americans in Mexico, Stephan Baker of Miami, FL and member of the U.S. World Team sailed hard for four days and ultimately won the 2018 Optimist Overall National Championship. He defeated 278 sailors in this regatta.

Treated to the unexpected spectacle of the U.S. Navy's legendary Blue Angels streaking low and information directly overhead as the fleet sailed the championship round, Baker held first place, but was only one point ahead of Maithe Ebdrup of Denmark in second and who was effectively now match racing against Baker, and Laura Hamilton who was only four points out in third.

Ebdrup of Denmark took an early lead with Baker a solid fifteen boat lengths behind in fourth as they rounded the first marks – and then Baker turned on the jets and closed the difference. Baker states, "I kept up the pressure on him and then at the second downwind I got out of him covering me and then I got advantage getting a little leftie."

Meanwhile 23 Green Fleet boys and girls, the next generation of Optimist champion fleet sailors, navigated a variety of courses in 13 races over the four days of National Championship sailing. The youngsters were coached along the way and sailed in the shallower waters close to Pensacola Yacht Club's beach where Pensacola Bay meets Bayou Chico. All 23 sailors were happy winners and learned some valuable sailing lessons... sometimes stiff breezes.

The run of Optimist Nationals continued their feverish pace on Thursday with the 2018 Optimist Girls National Championship falling fresh on the heels of the spectacular finish for the 'open' National Championship. There were 66 young girls entered for the one-day championship.

Samara Walshe of New York won the Girls National Championship leading all sailors with 9 points (2,2,5). Sara Schumann of Ft Lauderdale was second with 14 points (1,11,2) and Anne Samis Chicago grabbed 3rd with 24 points (12,1,11).

Samara talked about racing one race in the northerly breeze and how the seas breeze filled in from the south for two races. She was in the top ten in all three races. "My coaches told me the game plan; but if something changed or shifted, I would adjust. I'm responsible for the tactics. I always want to come into the mark roundings on starboard tack with the advantage and come in fast. The second race was my favorite. Just sticking to the game plan."

Connor Boland and his teammates Sara Schumann, Laura Hamilton, Jack Redmond and Lucy Meagher of Lauderdale Yacht Club pulled in the 3-2 victory in the final race on the final day of the 2018 Team Racing National Championship. After three hard days of tough sailing against 23 other teams in varying conditions that threw everything at them, their overall victory came down to the absolute final race of the day against Team Long Island Optimist Sailing Team, LISOT Black.

Since LYC won and is the reigning champion of the 2017 Opti Team Cup, both the first and second place teams are invited to the 30th Opti Team Cup in Berlin this October.

Having sailed with his team for about two years including having won the Nationals with Sara Schumann in 2017, Boland adds, "It just came down to the basics, who sailed the better race." There were 113 sailors on the 24 teams.

Founded in 1908, Pensacola Yacht Club has a deep history of hosting major sailing events, whether OD, PHRF or offshore distance racing and has rose to the occasion as the host for the 2018 USODA National Championships. Fielding 130 volunteers and 38 support boats over eight days is no small accomplishment, but the club and it's leadership has mixed in true southern hospitality to make the regatta appear seamless.

Complete results are posted on

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