09 July 2011

2011 ISAF Youth Sailing Championship

Somehow, without knowing about it beforehand, we found ourselves in the middle of a championship. Zadar has been full of young sailors, their parents, their sponsors and their coaches. We see them in the supermarket, at restaurants, on the boardwalk and on the beach - they all wear white t-shirts with the ISAF logo and seem to be treating the event like a vacation. It's the premiere youth sailing event of the year, though, and it's a big deal.
We saw the boats first, lined up on the marina concrete in exact, gleaming rows. The competitors hadn't arrived yet, and we were free to walk around and take pictures. A few days later, the sails arrived and the sailors began to trickle in. A fence went up around the dock area; we were no longer welcome. Signs for the "ISAF Youth Sailing Championship," were plastered all over town and a big floating stage was set up off the town promenade for the opening ceremony.
The first race began at noon on the 9th, but the boats went out much earlier, massing chaotically like seagulls on the water and scooting back and forth between the islands. From the beach, they were alternately distant and very close. You could hear them coming across the straight, sails snapping, voices calling out to one another. As the races began, groups formed, divided by class and gender, and spread out in different directions. More organized, it became like watching schools of fish divide and rejoin and break apart again.
Amazingly, the ferries and fishing boats kept running, sometimes blowing their horns to alert the competitors and get them to move out of the way. People swam amongst the boats when they were close to shore and jet skis whined around and through the groups. Life certainly went on, probably more undisturbed than the racers were.
There are 58 countries with teams at Zadar, fielding 247 boats manned by 349 youths. The vernacular of categorization is almost comically incomprehensible - there are laser radials, 420's, RS:X's, 29'ers and bullets, none of which I can tell apart. The New Zealand team was the favorite coming into the race, apparently, but I was told that the US had a good shot. The countries represented were dominated by ex-British colonies, with a few Asian nations thrown in and a small contingent of South Americans.
Two Puerto Rican sailors - Raul Rios and Fernando Monllor - led the standings after competition ended on day one, which (we gather) is a surprise. They put out a few happy but cautious quotes: "It was pretty light and shifty and it was my first bullet. It is a great feeling," Rios said. "It was very nice. Sailing with Raul has been really good and a great experience, he is a really good sailor and having the opportunity to sail with him has been a great pleasure," Monllor chipped in. The races will continue on Sunday and Monday, but we won't be there for them.
Quotes courtesy of isafyouthworlds.com

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