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Young Belizean girl sailor chosen as standard bearer at CORK Youth Regatta

by Forrest Jones 27 Aug 2016 14:15 BST 14-18 August 2016
Blanca Velasquez at the 2016 Sail Canada International Youth Championship © Forrest Jones

In a gracious salute to Belize for participating in Canadian Regattas for the very first time, the host organization (CORK - Canadian Olympic Regattas, Kingston) chose Blanca Velasquez, 16, a Laser sailor from San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, (Belize) to be its standard bearer at the opening ceremonies of the 2016 Sail Canada International Youth Championship Regattas in Kingston, Ontario, August 14th). Arrangements for Blanca and another San Pedrana, Sarah White, 16, to enter the regatta were made by San Pedro's Belize Sailing School.

In the regatta itself, Blanca fought her way through the qualifiers to become one of only 7 girls out of the 38 girls entered to advance to the Gold fleet (the top third of 146 international entrants). And she was the only foreigner among the Gold fleet girls; the others were all Canadians desperate to show that they are worthy of selection to the highly competitive Canadian international team and qualify for Worlds.

Five of them fought Blanca off successfully. Still, to be the 6th best girl in this regatta was quite an accomplishment for a 16-year-old girl with 3 more years to go before she must compete against adult women. On the last day, her goal was simply to advance her rank. She advanced it five places, from 47th to 42nd, out of 49. All of the first 28 finishers in the Gold fleet were male. The Olympics, and the Youth World Championships which Blanca raced in last December, do not race women against men in Lasers. Here, they did. In this regatta, Blanca finished 42nd out of 146 sailors - male and female - in total. Her performance at this regatta illustrates that she is worthy of continued sponsorship and support. It is her dream to be allowed to sail in those regattas that, if one performs well enough, might result in an invitation from the International Olympic Committee to compete in the 2020 Olympics.

Sarah White, sailing in her very first major international regatta, encountered fates conspiring against her. In her second race of the first day of qualifying, with no one to follow, Sarah headed for the wrong mark. She corrected her course before rounding a mark and getting a penalty, but it dropped her to back of the pack. Even so, she managed to climb her way back to 35th place out of 48 before crossing the finish line. In the second day of qualifying in the 2nd race, she had an equipment malfunction which caused her to drop to 32nd place, in the last race, a squall blew in while Sarah's heat was on the course, grew into a complete white-out, caused utter chaos, and cost Sarah 35 points. Consequently, Sarah entered the first day of the 2 days of finals with a 9th ranking in the Bronze which she held through the first 2 races. A disqualification for crossing the start early in the last race of the day dropped her to 19th. Undaunted, Sarah came out on the 2nd and final day and won the very first race flat out beating the Canadian boy who won 3 out of the 5 finals races for the Bronze fleet. She finished the regatta in 14th place overall in her fleet and 3rd out of the 16 girls in the Bronze fleet.

World Sailing, the international organization in charge of youth Laser sailing, has made it clear that it wants more participation by girls. Belize appears unique in that regard.

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