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USA's Wilcox wins 30th International Optimist Regatta in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

by Carol Bareuther 19 Jun 2023 14:19 BST June 12-18, 2023
The USA's Jackson Wilcox, overall winner, 30th IOR © Dean Barnes

Good starts, getting out in front, and quickly rebounding from a broken mast on the last day of sailing is what led the USA's Jackson Wilcox to win the 30th International Optimist Regatta (IOR), hosted at St. Thomas Yacht Club (STYC), June 16 to 18.

Fifteen-year-old Wilcox, from Sarasota, Florida and representing Lauderdale Yacht Club, was one of nearly 90 sailors from the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, U.S. mainland, Argentina, France, and Italy that competed in this three-day regatta under Caribbean-ideal conditions that averaged 15- to 18-knots of breeze under sunny skies.

"On behalf of the entire U.S. Virgin Islands, I would like to congratulate the winners of the 30th International Optimist Regatta. Your skill, determination, and sportsmanship have been truly inspiring. As we commemorate this special anniversary, we reflect on the rich legacy of this event and the incredible impact it has had on our islands. I invite all the talented sailors to return to the U.S. Virgin Islands to sail our pristine waters again or simply enjoy the beauty and hospitality of our islands," says Joseph Boschulte, Commissioner of the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism.

The winners

Wilcox's first place overall also put him at the top of the 13- to 15-year-old Red Fleet, after 11 races in the Championship fleet.

"I sail better in oscillating wind, sailing from one wind pressure to the next, and that's how I worked to stay ahead," says Wilcox, who scored seven first-place finishes. "In the second to last race, I was sailing upwind when the mast snapped, so I scored a DNF (did not finish) in that race. Luckily, my coach, Pilo (Rocha), was able to go back to shore, bring out another mast out and we quickly rigged. Then, I just concentrated on getting a good start and sailing fast in that last race."

Fourteen-year-old Audrey Zimmerman, from St. Thomas, USVI, and STYC, ended fifth overall and in the Red Fleet, plus earned the Top Female award and the perpetual Founders Trophy. This trophy is designed to recognize the IOR's women's sailing past and present and promote greater participation by young women in this event.

"I focused on myself and what I was doing rather than focus on the fleet," says Zimmerman of her focal point strategy.

In the age 11- to 12-year-old Blue Fleet, Howard Zimmerman, from St. Thomas, USVI, and STYC, finished first.

"I looked at what the top sailors were doing, like sailing close to the committee boat side at the starts, and I did that too. It helped me stay near the top," says Zimmerman.

Rounding out the Championship Fleet is White Fleet winner, 10-year-old Finn Hodgins, from St. Thomas, USVI and STYC.

"Sail fast, that's it. And get good starts. That was my plan," says Hodgins, who sailed in the Green Fleet last year.

Meanwhile, it was 12-year-old Julia Bernstein, representing Coral Reef Yacht Club, in Miami, Florida, who won the Beginner Green Fleet after a total of 22 races.

"There was a two-point gap between myself and the leader, then 15 points until the next boat, so I knew it would be between myself and the leader (Francisco Dom, also from Coral Reef Yacht Club). He got two first places, and I got two first places, but it came down to the last race and I beat him by one point," says Bernstein, who says getting good starts proved her winning strategy.

Interestingly, Bernstein's father, Erik, competed in the first IOR sailed in 1993, when he won Best Visiting Sailor.

"Never could I have imagined back then I'd be here 30 years later, and our daughter would win her fleet. It's certainly an incredible Father's Day for me," says Bernstein.

In other awards, John Hartney, representing St. Petersburg Yacht Club, earned the Pete Ives Award, given for a combination of sailing prowess, sportsmanship, determination, and good attitude both on and off the water. Hartney also finished second overall and in Red Fleet.

A week of sailing

The 8- to 15-year-old sailors started the week by training in the three-day TOTE Clinic held June 12 to 14.

The Clinic was run by top local and international coaches. The coaches, in alphabetical order with their affiliations, are Mykel Alonso (Coral Reef Yacht Club, FL, USA), Megan Cassidy (St. Thomas Yacht Club, USVI), Spencer LeGrande (St. Thomas Yacht Club, USVI), Joie Paciulli (St. Thomas Yacht Club, USVI), Gonzalo Pollitzer (Club Nautico San Isidro, Argentina), Agustin Resano (STYC, USVI), Manny Resano (JK Sailing, CA, USA), Esteban Rocha (Fort Lauderdale Yacht Club, FL, USA), and Emily Verdioa (St. Thomas Yacht Club, USVI).

The one-day TOTE Team Racing Championships took place on June 15. Out of over a dozen teams, the winner was Team JK Sailing Manny. Team members were John Hartney, Ethan Wenokur, Joshua Wenokur, and Amelia Woodworth.

Gonzalo Pollitzer (ARG) served as Principal Race Officer for the IOR, while the International Jury included chair, Don Makowiecki (BVI), David Pelling (CAN), Bruce Cook (USA), and Mike Chapell (USVI).

Celebrating 30 years!

A vision to create a strong new program to train junior sailors in a boat sailed around the world led to the development of the then Caribbean International Optimist Regatta in 1993. This idea began when-then STYC junior sailing instructor, Karen Paige, took a group of sailors to the Orange Bowl Regatta in Florida and was amazed at how young sailors adeptly skippered the 8-foot single-sail Optimist dinghy. Paige enlisted the help of St. Thomas resident Henry Menin, who had several boats shipped from the U.S. mainland for the first event. The next year, the IOR caught the attention of the International Optimist Dinghy Association Class Administrator, Helen Mary Wilkes, who traveled from Ireland to attend. Afterward, she met with coaches from all three USVI, Puerto Rico, Antigua, Martinique, and Trinidad & Tobago to provide support for Optimist development programs throughout the Caribbean.

Strong sponsor support

Winners in the Red (ages 13-15), Blue (ages 11-12), and White (age 10 and under) fleets will receive signature Virgin Islands'-styled Lite Up Watches from Cardow Jewelers, each in coordinated Red, Blue, and White colors. Perfect for junior sailors, the kid-favorite timepieces are water-resistant and feature a silicon band, flashlight, light-up feature, and an outline of all three U.S. Virgin Islands on the face.

The IOR is sponsored by TOTE Maritime, the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism, Simmons Boatworks, Cardow Jewelers, K3 Waterproof Gear, MSI Building Supplies, and the St. Thomas Restaurant Group.

The IOR is sanctioned by the Caribbean Sailing Association.

For more information, call (408) 314-7119, or Email: Or, for the Notice of Regatta (NOR), Results, and other information, visit the St. Thomas Yacht Club website or Regatta Network.

Please also visit the International Optimist Regatta on Social Media!

Overall Results: (top 5 finishers by fleet)

Red fleet

  1. Jackson Wilcox, LYC, USA (14)
  2. John Hartney, SPYC, USA (31)
  3. Brayden Zawyer, CRYC, USA (50)
  4. Coby Fagan, STYC, USVI (54)
  5. Audrey Zimmerman, STYC, USVI (55)

Blue fleet

  1. Howard Zimmerman, STYC, USVI (107)
  2. Diego Rivera-Hermida, TeamPUR, PUR (131)
  3. Rafa Vazquez, CNSJ, PUR (146)
  4. Joshua Wenokur, Team Manny, USA (159)
  5. Constantino Conrad, DIYC USA (167)

White fleet

  1. Finn Hodgins, STYC, USVI (166)
  2. Olivia Weber, CGSC, USA (347.5)
  3. Bailey Meluskey, SCYC, USVI (368.5)
  4. Rowan Michel, GYC, USA (490)

Green fleet

  1. Julia Bernstein, CRYC, USA (47)
  2. Francisco Don, CRYC, USA (48)
  3. Malo Dupuy, CRYC, USA (66)
  4. Jaiden Strickon, KBYC, USA (76)
  5. Samuel Gerin, CRYC, USA (97)

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