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Woods outlines Visionary plan

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Setting sail: Visionary Sailing Academy is providing youngsters with valuable experience both on and off the water

“Big ship sailing on the ocean,

We don’t need no commotion.

Big ship sailing on the ocean,

Get ready ‘cause we’re movin’.

Big ship sailing on the ocean.

There’s a time when the sea gets rough,

The wind is blowing and the fishes keep movin’.

What are you doing mister man,

Sit down hold on tight, get ready ‘cause you’re sailing.”

True lyrics from reggae great and frequent Bermuda visitor Freddie McGregor, however there is great commotion taking place off the shores of West End Sailboat Club as youngsters stir up the waters while they learn and compete as students of the Visionary Sailing Academy.

Indeed, even this area of the Great Sound can get rough; yet showing guts, courage and ability VSA members persevere in overcoming the elements and landing on their feet … mostly.

And after a successful first year of getting their feet — and everything else — the programme instituted by Royal Yachting Association-certified dinghy coach Rajee Woods this year aims to make the step up to competitive racing with a goal of competing at the internationally renowned Orange Bowl Regatta in Florida.

However, finding funding and support for the youngsters training and travelling expenses is key. Axis Capital have stepped forward to aid such expenses, yet more is needed and Woods continues to put in the legwork required to add to the family of supporters.

“This year we’re endeavouring to put together a racing group sponsored by Axis, so their time here at home is paid for by Axis Capital,” Woods said at the scenic grounds of WESC.

“Our goal this summer is to create a racing group to participate and progress with an aim of competing at the Orange Bowl Regatta towards the end of December. So we have some time to fundraise, get things together and work on the things that we need to work on.

“Last summer was the first step, now everything is slowly coming together, we have at least a floating dock, because we don’t have a hard dock, so that’s something we’re still working on.

“We’re trying to make this an academy of high quality where these guys will also have access to compete in the 420, a double-handed boat, as well as the Comet Class.”

Dedication and commitment continues to be drilled into the students.

“I can speak for myself, once I got hooked, I was hooked,” Woods said. “I talked to my guys earlier about responsibility, how one has to commit to it. I had to grow myself in the sport and it kept me away from any sort of negative influences.

“That’s part of the reaching out to companies for funding, sponsorship and leadership guidance, because it can’t be all free. We’ve coaches and other overheads to deal with. Still, I try to keep it fun and interesting, while still achieving the goals of each session.

“Sailing is a white-dominated sport, but it wasn’t always that way in Bermuda, I’m just trying to do my part and to bring it back to the community in various ways that represent my perspective and views. I believe they get where I’m coming from and have ideas as to how far this can take them and they’re inspired to take it on.”

Jade Smith, who had put the sport down for a bit, is excited to be on the water again.

“I’ve sailed before, so it’s all starting to come back to me and I’m enjoying myself,” Smith said. “I’m not sure where sailing can take me but I’m having fun right now.”

Meanwhile, 14-year-old Brianna Smith is anxious to start competing.

“I like to sail and just be on the water with my friends who know what we’re doing,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to competing.”

A’Marley Raynor likes exploring new areas and learning new techniques.

“I just started last year and in the beginning I found it boring but as I sailed I found it interesting and fun,” Raynor said. “I like learning the techniques and tactical sailing on different ‘reaches’ and things like that.”

Eleven-year-old Tajhari Rogers simply wants to go fast.

“I am going much faster than when I first started,” Rogers said. “I was a little shaky then, but I’ve gotten my speed up.”

Woods noted how critical thinking was a very valuable tool for the youth.

“I can say that at this young age, particularly with the Optimist Prams, they’re going to learn critical-thinking skills, problem-solving skills and real survival skills, because innately even at that level of competition they’re on their own,” Woods said.

“The coach is on the water but there’s not outside help allowed at all, so they’re building that character, strength and self-confidence. They have to go in all sorts of weather and for me that became fun as I came to grips with wind varying from 5 to 25 knots.

“My forte is dinghy sailing, so I can jump in any dinghy and perform because the skills translate to other boats.”

Woods is also confident of VSA reaching their financial goals.

“We have not really started fundraising in a public way, but rather I’ve been meeting with sponsors and potential corporate sponsors through face-to-face meetings,” he said. “We have Axis Capital at the moment, they were with us last year and continue our relationship which is really a godsend, they were gracious to support and these guys are here as a result.

“It’s expensive, so we have to build a team beyond just the young sailors but a family of support in the corporate, public and private sectors. It’s going to be a challenge, it’s going to be a journey funding trips abroad and whatnot and to be able to take some of that expense aspect away from the parents.”

Woods is searching for a classroom to provide classes and board sessions.

“We desperately need a classroom, somewhere to isolate the kids,” said Woods, who sailed with, and against, some of Bermuda’s best, including Laser champions Brett Wright and Malcolm Smith. “I’d like to make the programme a recognised training centre for the RYA which puts us on the map worldwide, I feel the RYA is on top when it comes to certification for teaching and instruction. That’s where all of my qualifications come from and I implement those teachings and policy from the RYA and apply them in this camp … because they work.”

“Big ship sailing on the ocean!”

Future is bright: from left, Hannah Dill, A’Marley Raynor, Tijahri Rogers, Jade smith, Arianna Smith, Ken Kelly and Brianna Smith are benefiting from the funding Axis Capital has put into the Visionary Sailing Academy off the shores of the West End Boat Club