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Sailing and Seeing Peru

Two youth optimist sailors from the US Virgin Islands, and their families, recently traveled to Peru to participate in the first Optimist Training Clinic and Regatta with kids from 11 other nations. Earlier this month, Alex Coyle, from St. John, and Billy Gibbons, from St. Croix, traveled to Paracas, Peru, on the Pacific Coast, to sail with 38 other sailors in a clinic run by world class coaches.

Gonzalo “Bocha” Pollitzer, who coached Malaysia to a second place team finish at the 2005 Opti Worlds, and Fernando “Happy” Alegre, who coached the Trinidad team at the 2005 Opti Worlds, organized the event which included a five-day clinic, limited to 40 sailors, and a three-day regatta, which saw 53 sailors from 12 nations competing. Invited sailors included the North American champion, South American champion, 3rd place at Europeans, and 2nd and 7th place at the Opti Worlds in Switzerland this summer. The VI kids were happy to see their friends from Trinidad, Wesley Scott, Annick Lewis, and Matthew Scott (2nd at Worlds), there as well. 

During the clinic a typical day for the sailors started with breakfast and was followed by calisthenics and a run through the desert. Paracas is on the 14-degree latitude south and is on the shore, but is also in the desert. The wind would be dead calm in the early morning and would start to pick up around 10:00am. The sailors would launch around 10:30am and begin on-the-water drills. By noon the wind would make a 180-degree wind shift and the coaches would reset the marks. The kids had a snack for lunch on the water. There would be more drills and practice races throughout the afternoon. By mid-afternoon, the wind would be blowing 18-25 and the kids would sail until dusk, which would be around 6:30pm. There would be time for showers and dinner, then they would meet with the coaches for debriefing along with video footage of their day’s sailing.

The regatta days were a little more relaxed with no morning workouts. Before the races, the sailors had a chance to do a little exploring around Paracas. One side trip included a boat trip to Las Islas Ballestas, which are referred to as the Peruvian Galapagos. It is a small cluster of rock-islands a couple of miles off-shore, which is home to hundreds of thousands of birds of many different kinds, including terns, gulls, vultures and penguins. There are also thousands of sea lions there. So there were times when a stray sea lion would pop up on the kids’ race course, much to their delight. Another great side trip was a sand dune buggy trip. The buggy drivers would drive you into the desert and just start driving all over these huge dunes. Sometimes, as you climbed, you didn’t know if the dune would level out, go over the other side, or the driver would choose to drive sideways down the dune you just climbed. The kids also experienced sand boarding Just like snow boarding, but down these big dunes. It was a great time.

The weather in Paracas was warm and sunny during the days and would cool down at night. It was quite dry, being in the desert. We never saw a hint of rain while we were there. In Nasca, a town south of Paracas, we were told it hasn’t rained for four years. Though the air was warm, the water was very cold, as it is effected by the Humboldt Current. The kids would have to wear plenty of spray gear and wetsuits in order to stay warm.

Before heading south to Paracas for sailing, the two families flew to Cusco, up in the Andes Mountains. There, they visited the Sacred Valley and the ruins of Pisac; Ollantaytambo, which is an old mountain village where many people still live like they did hundreds of years ago; and the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu. It’s amazing to think that these structures have stood for over 700 years, through earthquakes of 7.5 and years of overgrowth. We are lucky that it is one of the few places left unharmed by the conquering Spaniards and their search for gold.

One of the highlights for the kids, and the adults, was our encounter with the llamas at Machu Picchu. They were so tame. We had a great time petting and posing with them. We hear they “spit” at you sometimes, but we missed out on that experience.

It was a great adventure. From climbing the ruins at Machu Picchu, to petting the llamas, to sailing the Pacific in Paracas, to driving the dunes, and baying like the sea lions, Peru has a lot to offer.

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