Saturday, June 22, 2024
June 22, 2024

Hard work pays off for young Opti-class sailors

BY TIMOTHY HARVEY

Special to the Driftwood

The Salt Spring Island Sailing Club (SSISC) had a weekend of unprecedented success at the Royal Victoria Yacht Club’s (RVYC) Fall Dinghies Regatta on Sept. 23-24.

A contingent of five young Opti class sailors aged 10 to 12 attending their first organized competition placed high in unscored races in a field of 24 first-time competitors. Meanwhile, SSISC’s pair of two-person 420 crews placed first and fourth overall out of nine crews representing Victoria, Comox and Salt Spring Island. Izzi Pugh Aucoin, 13, and Reuben Sol, 14, put on an impressive demonstration of skill and consistency to earn first place honours, competing in 10 races over two days in the variable winds of Cadboro Bay.

Also representing SSISC, Malikaa Clement, 13, and Vincent Von Rueckmann, 17, placed a satisfying fourth place in their first appearance at the region’s major annual dinghy regatta. It was Pugh Aucoin and Sol’s second appearance at the Fall Dinghies Regatta, where they sailed to an eighth-place finish in 2022.

“We had a much better year this year,” reported Pugh Aucoin, as she packed her gear prior to the awards ceremony.

She and Sol won both days of competition, finishing six of 10 races in the lead position. Clement and Von Ruekmann managed a series of high-placed finishes, allowing them to edge out the Comox Bay Sailing Club crew for fourth place. A total of six crews fielded by the RVYC placed second, third and sixth to ninth place overall.

“Our 420 team this year have been working hard to hone their skills, such as trapeze and spinnaker, which have greatly improved,” said SSISC sailing team coach Finley Valentine-Ward. “They have progressed more than I ever could have imagined since last year. The Fall Dinghies Regatta was a great way for them to prove to their coaches and to themselves that all their hard work meant something. Reuben and Izzy achieving a phenomenal first place, and Vincent and Malikaa in fourth all blew our expectations out of the water. It was amazing to see those once-little kids we taught now succeeding at such a high level.”

The strong showing of Salt Spring’s youth sailors against the region’s top competition is a testament to strong coaching of the SSISC Sailing School. Today’s coaches are past racers, and the current 420 crews also serve as junior coaches to help introduce younger sailors to the sport.

The Fall Dinghies Regatta featured approximately 150 registrants across all sailboat classes and a dozen motorized support and coach vessels. It was a weekend that thrilled participants and spectators alike. As the speedy 29er class sailboats streaked across waves in higher winds outside Cadboro Bay, the 4.2-metre 420s and even smaller solo-crewed Optis provided lively entertainment for spectators clustered on the shoreline or afloat in the bay. There were moments of quiet anticipation as dozens of dinghies gathered in position behind an invisible starting line, and moments of high drama as sailboats jostled one another and, in one case, capsized.

“We learned so much this weekend,” said James Harvey, one of the Opti skippers taking part in his first regatta.

For the more seasoned racers, it was a chance to learn how much they are capable of achieving. For the crews, coaches and parents in attendance from Vancouver, West Vancouver, Comox and Victoria, it was also an opportunity take notice that Salt Spring Island’s volunteer-run program now contributes some of the most skilled and enthusiastic racers in B.C.’s youth sailing community.

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