by Edwin Gifford
Nine of Antigua’s best young sailors, including Olympian Jalese Gordon and two-time America’s Cup champion Shannon Falcone, will be competing as a team in the qualifying rounds of the Star Sailors League (SSL) Gold Cup world championship.
The event, which starts May 15 on Lake Neuchatel in Switzerland, is the global inshore sailing circuit launched by Olympic athletes in 2012. It has been recognised as a “special event” by governing body World Sailing since 2017, and its philosophy considers the athletes – rather than the boats – as the ‘stars’.
Team member Rocco Falcone, Antigua Dragon champion and Shannon’s younger brother, tells Observer, “The purpose of the Star Sailors League Gold Cup is to have an event that makes sailing more accessible for all countries and to make a tournament kind of like the World Cup for sailing, where it is country versus country and everyone has the same gear and the same boats and it’s not a matter of who has the best gear, rather a matter of who has the best skill.”
He continues, “Our team has sailed together for many years and that is a big advantage. While the other countries may have higher ranked sailors, these sailors might be small boat sailors who might have to adapt to keel boat sailing. Our team has been sailing keel boats together for years.”
Competitors will be racing the SSL 47, a stable, fast and exciting performance monohull. As a class design, all boats racing will be exactly the same and interchangeable, so the winners will be those who sail the fastest not those who sail the fastest boats.
Crews from more than 50 nations will take part and, as a wild card entry, team Antigua must first beat the three island nations in the regional bracket – Bermuda, Puerto Rico and Cuba – to advance.
Smaller Pacific Island nations including Tahiti will also be racing in their own bracket to qualify during this time period.
Sailors qualify for their national SSL Gold Cup teams based on their SSL ranking, with every racing sailor in the world now ranked based on their sailing accomplishments by this organisation, with top points going to Olympic and America’s Cup winners.
Shannon Falcone, at 41, is the team’s captain, while the average age of the team is 22. The Antiguans are one of the youngest teams in the competition.
Other notable sailors on team Antigua include former National Laser champion Jules Mitchell, current National Laser runner-up Rhone Kirby, crew member on board Caribbean 600 champion vessel ‘Warrior Won’ Tristan Louwrens, and Junella King, crew member on the racing yacht ‘Maiden’ which is currently on a voyage around the world promoting sailing opportunities for girls.