Youth Storm Coming to the Caribbean

Published on February 12th, 2019

Antigua suffered minimal damage in 2017 when Hurricane Irma and Maria ravaged the Caribbean region, and are now preparing for a hurricane of another kind: hosting the 2019 Optimist World Championship.

With an expectation of 300 young sailors from over 50 countries for the racing on July 8-15, Scuttlebutt editor Craig Leweck checked in with Antiguan event organizer Paola Vittoria for an update:

Tell us about the selection process.

The bid was presented at the International Optimist Class AGM at the 2017 Optimist World Championship in Pattaya, Thailand (July 2017). To our surprise we won the bid at this forum (against China by just a few points), with the bid then reconfirmed at the 2018 World Championships in Limassol, Cyprus.

It takes some guts for a small island nation to host such a massive event.

Antigua hosted the Optimist North American Championships in 2015 and 2016 with great success so we were excited and keen to host the Worlds. However, the requirements to host such an event are more complex and slowly we realized it was going to be a real challenge. But sailing is so important for Antigua, and while we may be a tiny island in the middle of the Atlantic, we have it all:

1. Venue: Nelson’s Dockyard will be in low season, so it will be cleared from all the big yachts and have room for all the Optimists.
2. Weather: Competitors can expect warm water and average winds of 8 to 18 knots
3. Racing area: Great course locations are just outside English Harbour for individual races and in Falmouth Harbour for Team racing, both of which are close to Antigua Yacht Club and the Marina.
4. Host: Antigua Yacht Club is already the home of some of the most prestigious sailing events such as RORC Caribbean 600, Antigua Classic Regatta, and Antigua Sailing Week.

Therefore, while we knew it would be challenging, we also knew we could do it and that it would be important for Antigua. For such a small island to host a World event is a huge achievement and source of pride and will bring people to the island in the low season.

What are some of the challenges Antigua must overcome?

The biggest challenge so far has been accommodation due to the fact that we don’t have any big hotels within walking distance to the competition area. However, we have had lots of beautiful hotels offering good deals to us to be able to make it happen and we have been able to work with Dream Yachts to use their catamarans to accommodate some teams.

My priority is giving a feeling of freedom to all the national teams to be able to walk to the venue in their own time rather than having long transfers and to feel they are close to the action.

Will you be getting support from your neighboring islands?

It’s as much an all-Caribbean affair as it can possibly be. Most of our sponsors are local companies and we are using Caribbean-based companies and people for all our organization, marketing, PR, and filming. We are also lucky enough to have partnerships with Virgin Atlantic, Dream Yacht Charters, and North Sails, and while they are not Caribbean companies, they have a significant presence in the region.

How do you hope for this event to benefit the region?

We anticipate two main benefits from hosting the event:
1. We want to help build a strong Antiguan economy during summer time (low season) and we believe such an event, along with our vibrant community, will attract tourists as well as competitors.
2. We really want to support youth sailing and contribute to the healthy growth of a young generation, be they from the Caribbean or worldwide. Showcasing our sport like this is really inspiring for the young sailors from this region. We’re aiming to provide the best environment to build friendships among competitors. It’s so important, to meet people from all over the world, and to develop lasting friendships.

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