Raising sailors the Island way

Published on July 28th, 2013

By Laurie Fullerton, SAILING
The U.S. Virgin Islands sailing community has made teaching and inspiring young sailors a priority – and it’s paying big dividends

About 15 years ago, legendary three-time America’s Cup skipper Dennis Conner was competing in St. Thomas, and was asked to talk to three young boys who had just returned from a day of sailing off Cowpet Bay – a beautiful area on the east side of St. Thomas, that overlooks the islands of St. John and distant Tortola. Conner was urged by his hosts to say something inspirational to the youngsters but instead the young sailors said that he took a different route.

“It’s too bad you boys will never amount to anything as sailors,” the sailors remembered Conner saying. “There is too much wind here. You will never become really good.”

The three boys are now in their 20s. They are All-American sailors and U.S. Virgin Islanders Taylor Canfield, Tom Barrows and Cy Thompson, who captained their sailing teams at Boston College, Yale University and Roger Williams University respectively.

Canfield is now the sailing director at the Chicago Match Racing Center and recently won two major World Match Racing Tour events, the King Edward VII Gold Cup in Bermuda and the Monsoon Cup in Malaysia, and earned a “tour card” on the World Match Racing Tour for 2013.

Yale All-American sailor and Olympian Barrows is in the midst of launching an Olympic campaign in the 49er class.

Thompson, who competed in the 2012 Summer Olympics in the Laser Class, is now involved in another Olympic Laser campaign.

“I remember when Dennis Conner spoke to us when we were really young,” Canfield said. “I think we just looked at him and shrugged it off the way kids do.”

But two of the boys’ fathers, Bill Canfield and Shep Barrows, did not forget the remark quite as easily.

“We became somewhat motivated by Conner’s remark to the kids. He basically put them down the way I see it,” said Bill Canfield. “At that time, we really only had the international success of Peter Holmberg, but not a really organized sailing program. But, what was happening was that we would send Taylor to an Optimist regatta and he would take home first place out of like 90 kids.

“With the talented young kids we had at that time, like Taylor, Tom and Cy, we knew we had to do something. We were lucky that in a way our kids motivated us to take the sailing program to the level it is at today,” he said. – Read on

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