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Young sailors vie for championship off Sayville

BLUE POINT, NY, July 18, 2010: Sailors participate

BLUE POINT, NY, July 18, 2010: Sailors participate in the world junior sunfish championship hosted by the Sayville Yacht Club in the waters off of Bue Point, NY, Sunday, July 18, 2010. Photo by Ed Betz Photo Credit: Photo by Ed Betz

Maneuvering against the wind and waves in his Sunfish - a small, single-handed competitive racing boat - José Gutiérréz, 17, glided past 14 other competitors down the Great South Bay off Sayville Sunday.

Gutiérréz, from Venezuela, sailed on to win the top prize in the annual Sunfish Youth World Championship, besting sailors from the United States, Ecuador, Curaçao and Puerto Rico.

This is the first year that the youth competition - hosted by the Sayville Yacht Club under the International Sunfish Class Association - was run separately from the Sunfish World Championship, said Doug Shaw, former commodore of the Sayville Yacht Club. The world event was held in Italy this year.

It was a first for Gutiérréz, too.

"This is the first time that I've won an international championship, so I'm very happy," said Gutiérréz, a Sunfish sailor for five years.

The youth competition, which began Friday, was a series of 11 races, each about 2 miles long, which took about an hour and 15 minutes to complete, Shaw said.

The final standings were determined Sunday, based on the average of each competitor's accumulated points.

One slot was reserved for the host club and went to Mike Byrnes, 18, of Sayville, winner of a sail-off at the club.

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Even as the sailors competed for a trophy, Shaw said the event was largely about bragging rights.

"It's really just a pure test of their sailing skills and their tactical skills," he said. "It's amazing how they know where they are and what they have to do to maintain their position."

Alexandra Siebels, 14, from Curaçao, said the event tested her sailing and strategic skills as she adjusted to the choppier Long Island waters.

"I don't usually sail in those kinds of waves," said Siebels. "I was getting a lot of water into my boat and I was scared sometimes."

To master both the boat and environment, "you have to be smart and strong," Gutiérréz said.

Byrnes, who has been sailing since he was 9, won the last race of the series and placed sixth overall.

"It's a really big race," he said. "I'm happy to be in it."


Sailing on a Sunfish


The Sunfish racing boat is just 13 feet, 9 inches long and weighs 130 pounds.

Sailors typically move up to the Sunfish after learning to sail on an Optimist, a 7-1/2-foot boat designed for children up to 15.

This was the first year that the Sunfish Youth World Championship, for sailors younger than 19, was separated from the overall Sunfish World Championship, which was held in Tuscany, Italy, in June.

The Sayville competition lasted three days and featured 11 races, each about 2 miles. Final results were based on the average of each contestant's total points scored in all 11 races.

- Melissa Chan


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