Unified by one common denominator

Published on October 31st, 2019

Hurricane Dorian was the most intense tropical cyclone on record to strike the Bahamas, and is regarded as the worst natural disaster in the country’s history.

It struck the Abaco Islands on September 1 with maximum sustained winds of 185 mph, moving on to batter Grand Bahama several hours later with similar intensity, stalling just north of the territory with unrelenting winds for at least 24 hours.

The resultant damage to these islands was catastrophic; most structures were flattened or swept to sea, and at least 70,000 people were left homeless.

For the Bahamian team organizing the 2019 Optimist North American Championship, to be held few weeks later, just 100nm to the south in Nassau, this was a significant scare. While their island was remarkably spared, the impact of the storm was felt.

Right up to the last minute, regatta organizers had been justifiably concerned that the tragic effects of Hurricane Dorian would lower registrations and that other regional weather events in general could affect the ability to run a top-flight event. As far as the regatta was concerned, happily neither was the case.

Sigrid Beckmann, VP of International Optimist Class, in her opening welcome to the 164 sailors, said, “Life in all the islands has drastically changed forever, however, the spirit of our Bahamian friends remains strong. Let our international sailing family bring hope, kindness, and optimism to our hospitable and warm friends.”

Her challenge was heard.

For starters, it was proposed the Class Association commit to rebuilding the programs of Freeport Grand Bahama, Hopetown Abaco, and Long Island, which was wiped out in last year’s Hurricane Joaquin.

Parents, Team Leaders, and sailors all rallied under the banner Optis for Optimists. With the support of McLaughlin Boatworks, 20 fully kitted out Pro-racer Optis would remain behind in the Bahamas for purchase and re-purposing. The program’s focus was to Freeport Grand Bahama when it was ready, followed by Hopetown Abaco. Commitments for six boats were made immediately (USA for two, plus one each Mexico, Switzerland, USVI, and Cayman).

Long Island may be ready to compete in the Cecil B Cooke Regatta November 2-3. They will be presented their boats at the regatta fully rigged plus transportation back home. This is the first of the three qualifying Opti events for eligibility for the 2020 National Team. Participation in this one is a big step for the LI Program recovery to be ready for next year. The 2020 Opti Nationals are scheduled for October 2020 in Long Island.

Japan donated three sails. Rigging and equipment was provided by several teams including Uruguay and USA. Clothing, was freely shared. Friendships made. Parents and team leaders, particularly after the Puerto Rico and US Virgin Island storms, were able to provide recovery mentoring and support.

Opportunities opened up to support tuition at several very good schools (with sailing programs of course). Getting their kids away to school permitted families to carry out the hard work of physically rebuilding homes and their communities.

Over $3500 was raised in raffle items, which will be donated to Nassau Rotary. Rotary International will match and return to Hurricane Dorian relief. It will then receive a second match thereby leveraging the original 3X.

The International Optimist Class waived the $50 per sailor fee for the Bahamian team permitting a further $800 contribution.

Team Ireland raised and contributed $1000.

There are many more anecdotes and examples of heartfelt generosity. But the underlying fact is 164 junior sailor athletes from 20 countries, speaking six different languages, were all unified by the one common denominator, their love of sailing.


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