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Story and photos by Shahein Fitzpatrick

Sailing in Antigua is described as one of the tourism sectors that offers aspiring athletes direct employment opportunities – and potentially a lucrative career.

Carl James, sailing manager and head coach at the Antigua Yacht Club, and Daniel Smith, a promising young sailor under James’ mentorship, both spoke to Observer about their experiences in the field.

James stated that he has been in the sailing industry since 1992.

“Several years before the National Sailing Academy came on stream, which was about 10 years ago, I was teaching sailing with Island Academy for their after-school curriculum activities. We saw the benefits of different sporting activities within the schools of Antigua and we felt that sailing is something we can do to reap similar benefits also,” James explained.

James revealed that many of his former students have gone on to become captains, or find work in water sports and chandleries, some as riggers and others as tour guides.

“There’s not any other sport that gives you direct employment like that; it has really opened up an avenue for a lot of young people who never really thought that there was an opportunity to do anything in the industry and I think this is why our yachting industry has grown. The fact that people have learned how to sail and understand boats, they are now able to produce quality work and this allows the boats, and them, to stay around,” James said.

“The yachting industry is probably one of the biggest industries there is in terms of tourism; if one was to look at our tourism product this year with Covid, when the lockdown came, one of the only tourist dollars that was probably made is the fact that they had about 400 boats on lockdown here.”

James said the yachting industry had accounted for a significant percent of the country’s GDP in recent years.

He said younger sailors continue to be inspired by their older counterparts who benefit from the opportunity to sail worldwide on large sporting yachts.

“I have had my stint winning as a professional sailor myself; it is my goal that long after I’m gone my legacy can be passed on.

“When an athlete buys into my method of coaching, it gives me a lot of pleasure to coach that person. My goal is to shorten your process; I’ve never been coached but I was still able to accomplish some things. So, what I am teaching is not what I hear about, read about, it is what I practise. So, if an athlete is willing to buy into my system they can only go up and a few of our sailors have done that, and it gives me a lot of pleasure,” James said.

Smith, now 18, became interested in the sport when he was just seven years old watching a race with his family on Pigeon Point beach and witnessing sailors in action on the sea.

Smith, who began racing when he was 10, told Observer that he has competed in several events under James’ mentorship and has won a number of them.

“I have done races in Texas two years ago when I was 16 and I won, I then went to Poland at age 17 where I won another championship; Carl and I went together and it was very nice,” he said.

“Being coached by Carl is good; Carl is a very experienced sailor.”

James spoke highly of Smith too, praising his discipline and willingness to learn.

“People always ask me if I see the next potential athlete. People usually measure potential by one’s talent. I don’t necessarily look at talent; I look at your ability to be coached as an athlete and if you’re coachable, anything is possible and if you have talent with that, the sky is the limit,” he said.

Smith agreed saying, “there is a lot of tactics that come into play and it teaches one how to multi-task on the water and in life, sailing is very much a mental sport.”

James said being physically fit was also key.

“You have to think about how you are going to maintain your diet to go and compete for maybe a four- or five-hour race on the water; this causes one to lose a ridiculous number of calories. Research has estimated that within a four-day championship a sailor can lose between 10 to 12 pounds easily,” he said.

“We have to do everything any other athlete has to do for their sport. We encourage to ride, we encourage to go to the gym and lift weights, we encourage to go running, swimming and hiking, just to make sure you’re well rounded for sailing.”

James said the “future for Antigua sailing is quite big” with three Antiguan sailors set to take part in next year’s prestigious America’s Cup. They will be representing Italy, New Zealand and the US. 

Smith continued, “Sailing is definitely growing in Antigua. It is not as popular as swimming because of the amount of equipment required, but sailing is definitely, slowly, growing. There’s not much competitions in Antigua but abroad there’s a lot of regattas, not only in Europe but the Americas as well and in some countries within the Caribbean.”

He said the sport played a role occupying local youngsters and keeping them off the streets. “It also keeps a person active and healthy. I definitely want to be a sailor and work with boats. This have been my passion since I was a child,” he said, adding, “If any parents need a sport for their children, definitely sailing is the one. Not only is it a sport that develops a person mentally and physically but it is a sport full of joy and fun, and racing is healthy competition to get out there and enjoy company with your friends.”

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