Hailing from the tiny settlement of Cherokee, Abaco Branden Sands and his younger sister Rachel showed their more experienced big city rivals from Nassau just how to do it. The only youth sailors in their tiny settlement, Branden and Rachel largely train in a bubble of their own on Cherokee Sound with their father coaching them but without the benefit of being able to train with other sailors on a regular basis. When possible, their parents make the 40 minute trek with them to Marsh Harbour and send them on the ferry to Hope Town, Abaco's only active junior fleet with experienced coaches. The perseverance of both he and his sister and the extensive encouragement of their parents Tim and Julie Sands is commendable.
In a fabulous event held for the first time in Abaco hosted by the Hope Town Sailing Club and delayed from it's original October 3-5 dates by Hurricane Joaquin, 15 year old Branden won a closely fought battle to emerge the clear winner over four time National Champion Spencer Cartwright, who took second and Tristan Eldon third, both from Nassau. In a fleet of 30 boats Top female finisher was Melisha Higgins of Harbour Island in sixth place overall. Branden's sister Rachel topped her age group of 11-13 year olds and finished 11th overall. Noah Simmons of Harbour Island took top honors for 8 to 10 year olds. Top in the 19 boat Green Fleet for first time competitors was Joshua Weech from Nassau.
The ascension of the Family Island athletes is a testament to the hard work and tireless involvement of the parents and volunteers in each of the communities who operate their sailing programs with guidance from the Bahama Sailing Association. Competitors attended from Abaco, Grand Bahama, Harbour Island and Nassau. Sadly missed were the competitors from Mack Knowles Sailing Club in Long Island who were unable to attend due to the difficulties of transport and communication in the aftermath of Hurricane Joaquin. Understandably, their communities were focused on the restoration of the schools and rebuilding their homes and lives.
This win was made all the sweeter for Branden coming in his home waters and because it was his last year of eligibility in the Optimist Class. The Optimist Class is the largest class of sailboats in the World, targeting children and youth from 8 to 15. The youth sailing community is waiting with baited breath for next year's Nationals in which Melisha and Rachel are expected to set the stage for a future of powerful if petite female Bahamian sailors.