Thirteen year old Branden Sands of Cherokee Sound entered Grade 7 at Forest Heights Academy on September 2 and he must have found it pretty hard to come back down to earth after his amazing summer activities. Branden is a young sailor with a lot of promise and during the summer months he has been honing his skills at both sailing and teaching at home and abroad. Sailing is his passion and his heartfelt comment just before the beginning of term was; “I wish that summer would never end so that I can go on sailing.”
The highlight of the summer for Branden was his trip to Italy where he represented The Bahamas in the World Championships (Optimist class). He was one of four young sailors ( the other three from New Providence) chosen to form the Bahamas National Junior Sailing team by the Bahamas Sailing Association following his very successful placings in four major national and international sailing competitions within the previous six months.
The World Championship Regatta is the top sailing regatta for Optimist dinghies and Branden performed well against the approximately 270 sailors between the ages of 11 and 15 from 58 nations.
Due to the very large numbers, the boats had to be divided into four fleets for launching and starting. Each race lasted approximately one hour and Branden raced in four races every day. He was astounded by the number of boats on this huge lake. “It was amazing; the boats were like flies. Every different type of competition boat you can think of was sailing and training on that lake.”
In preparation for the World Championships Branden underwent a week of training in Freeport in the ‘Advanced Racing Tactics Class’ which also included physical fitness training and then proceeded to Nassau for further team training. He participated in the North American Championships in Bermuda from 2-11 July and then flew on to Rome, Italy, where he competed in the World Championships on Lake Garda from 15 -26 July.
“Bermuda was very similar to home and the winds were very light but Italy was a whole new experience,” stated Branden. “Lake Garda is a glacial melt lake and so the water is very, very cold. Also the summer wind which is called the Ora, blows so hard and shifts which adds to the difficulty of sailing,” added Branden.
He spent the mornings rigging and waiting for the wind which he said came every day at midday and could be seen making its way down the valley towards the lake.
Branden’s father, Timothy, who has coached him from an early age, accompanied the team as Team Leader along with Robert Dunkley, Coach of the Bahamas National Sailing School. During some time off, father and son took a windsurfing course which they found very challenging due especially to the extreme cold of the water. “I could not even feel my toes,” said Branden. An amazing fact was that each of the boats was fitted with a GPS tracking unit so that although Branden’s mother and sister were unable to accompany him to Italy, they could watch all the races online and see Branden’s exact position at any time.
This is the first year that The Bahamas attended the World Championships as a national team and Branden explained that they went for the experience and the coaching. “We got exactly what we went for and I am very excited about the coaching I got,” he enthused. “Coaches from other countries were very willing to teach and they helped us all. I learned new techniques and a lot about fine tuning the sail.”
“This was the best experience of my life so far. I have become a lot more confident in my sailing and more knowledgeable about racing and I’m stronger and smarter on how to sail,” stated Branden. He was cognizant of the different opportunities that other countries got.
“Most countries had full-time employed coaches many of whom are former world champions. The top countries are given huge government budgets but here in the Bahamas we have to scrap for donations,” he stated.
Since his return from Italy, Branden attended camp in Eleuthera for one week and then spent the remaining two weeks of the holiday on Man O War Cay helping to teach sailing there. He was Junior Coach assisting Coach David Valentine from Freeport and a friend of his from Ireland.
Branden is looking forward to many more sailing competitions in the year ahead when he will be able to put into practice all of the new skills he learned during his amazing experience competing in the World Championships in Italy.
He will be starting with a regatta in Freeport in September and then one in Governor’s Harbour, Eleuthera, during the first week in October. “My major goal for the coming year is to win the Opti Nationals,” he says.
Branden would like to thank everyone who supported him with his fundraising efforts for this could not have happened without them.