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Stevens steers path for young black sailors

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Taking the wheel: Stevens will look to steer Team BDA to success against the best young sailors in the world on the Great Sound (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Dimitri Stevens acknowledges that the perception of sailing being a “white man’s domain” is largely true, but he hopes the sport becomes more integrated in the future.

The 22-year-old will steer Team BDA’s AC45F foiling catamaran at the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup after landing the highly coveted and key position of helmsman.

Stevens, along with Mustafa Ingham, the wing grinder, will blaze a trail as the event’s first black sailors when they take to the Great Sound for the opening day of the Qualifiers today.

While Stevens comes from a sailing background, having raced at the Optimist World Championships, Ingham had never previously sailed before trying out for the team two years ago.

“It’s a proud moment, but I hope me and Mustafa are not the last [black sailors in the event],” Stevens said.

“I would say it’s true to a degree that sailing is a white person’s sport, but there’s no reason why it has to be.

“With the America’s Cup having more of a physical grinder role, there’s no reason why black guys and Asian guys can’t go into it [without a sailing background], train hard and eventually get on one of the teams.

“Hopefully, we can inspire one or two youngsters and give them something to look up to.”

Inspiring the next generation of black sailors, Bermudian or otherwise, is not Steven’s main objective, though.

He simply wants to be part of a successful Team BDA.

“My initial goal was to just get on the boat, but the coaches obviously saw I was good at helm,” the former Berkeley Institute student said.

“That eventually got narrowed down to me and Ceci [Wollmann], and I eventually got the role.

“McKenzie is the skipper, though; he’s the face of the team and I’m absolutely fine with that. It means I don’t have to do as many interviews!

“But it gives me a lot of pride that I’m the one driving the boat and get to make the final decision. It’s a big responsibility.”

Stevens has already represented Bermuda, albeit at the junior level, but he admits racing before the eyes of the sailing world — including the six America’s Cup teams — will be a whole different level of exposure.

But in a sport where there is little or no margin for error, Stevens knows it is the cooler heads that prevail more often than not.

“I don’t like to go out there thinking that we’re going to win or we’re going come last,” Stevens said.

“We’re just trying to sail to the best of our expectations and if we can do that, I’m sure the results will follow.

“Sadly, this will have to come to an end in a few weeks and I’m just trying to enjoy it while I can.”

Eight sailors from the first event in San Francisco in 2013 have found positions with America’s Cup teams, such as Peter Burling, the Emirates Team New Zealand helmsman, and Blair Tuke, the team’s trimmer.

It is a path Stevens has dreamt of following.

“Becoming a professional sailor would be interesting,” he said. “If I could do it, it would be lovely.”