|As Antigua gets ready to host the 2019 Optimist World Championship, we were delighted to interview Karl James; Manager of Dinghy Sailing and Youth Training at the Antigua Yacht Club, 2 time Olympian and professional sailor. Having taught 1000s of Antiguans how to sail for over 25 years, Karl is playing a huge role in the 2019 Optimist World Championship as both coach and Co-Chair of the Organising Committee, responsible for ‘Afloat’. In between managing all of the above, Karl took the time to tell us a bit about himself, his coaching style and his tips for Antigua 2019.
At what age did you start sailing and what made you want to learn?
I started sailing at age 12. I grew up in English Harbour and as a little boy I watched people sail out of Nelson’s Dockyard. Thursday night racing on large keelboats was a big thing and lots of young boys, me included, would line up along the dock in order to get picked as ‘crew’. My first job on a boat was to manage fenders and sail covers, then I graduated to dock lines. I made sure I was always first on site in the early afternoon after school, because I was determined not to be left behind. I was always last to leave since I stayed to help clean up. This practice ensured that I became well known to the Captains, and I made a good reputation for myself which meant I was always guaranteed a spot onboard.
What have been your biggest achievements as a sailor and as a coach?
As Coach I focus on developing youth aged 6 – 25 through the sport. I hope to create future Olympians, but I aim to make good citizens. It is very important to note that Antigua is one place in the world where sailing can lead directly to a career, and I’m really very proud to see the kids I’ve coached over the years go out into the world and achieve big things: becoming America’s Cup sailors, captains of charter yachts, ship’s pilots, Coast Guard officers, industry business owners, and, of course, coaches of sailing.
It is hard for me to choose what is my “biggest” achievement thus far as a sailor. I’ve had a lot of success both in the Caribbean and internationally, on all types of boats: as helmsman, tactician and professional crew. I am very proud to have represented my country in two Olympic Games 1996 in Atlanta and 2000 in Sydney in the Laser Class, and in 2001 I won a silver medal in the Sunfish World Championship. Of my achievements in the superyachts, I am honoured to have been the tactician, trimmer and rules expert on the incomparable J Class yacht ‘Ranger’ when she won 3 World Championships in 2007, 2008 and 2010.
Do you have any other hobbies / sports you love?
When I was a teenager my other passion was cycling, and so I still follow that. But I am a very competitive person, therefore I follow all sorts of sports, but especially basketball and I’m very interested in sport fishing.
What is unique about sailing in Antigua?
Antiguan conditions are ideal all year around for sailing. There are no currents and no tides, there is always a good breeze, and the waters are crystal clear, clean, and warm.
Any top tips for teams for Antigua 2019?
I invite you to come and test the conditions. Just let me know if you wish to come to train early before the 2019 Worlds and I will sort you out.
What qualities make the best Optimist sailors?
I prefer to turn this around and say that Optimist sailing teaches admirable qualities: love of the water, respect for the environment, independence, how to understand and apply rules, how to work with a team, leadership, organizational skills, determination, responsibility and courage. With an open attitude all kids can learn to be good Optimist sailors.
What is your coaching style?
Proper preparation prevents poor performance. Focus on the individual and work with their strengths and support their weaknesses.
How do you motivate your sailors?
At Antigua Yacht Club I run programs throughout the year for all skill levels from beginner to advanced. Consistency and individual growth is a focus. Regular mini regattas provide qualification opportunities for sailors to travel off island to international events. During Antigua Sailing Week, Classics and RORC 600 I always recommend the young kids to crew on the big yachts. It is really fun for them and it gives them big boat experience, teaches them to be observant and learn how crew positions and mechanics work.
Where is the best place you have sailed in the world?
What’s your top tip for what to do in Antigua while visiting in 2019
My top tip, if you can only do one thing, is to visit one of Antigua’s 365 beautiful beaches.
Where’s the best place to watch the Antiguan races from?
The Optimist race course for the 2019 World Championship can be viewed very well from the English Harbour lookout points such as Fort Charlotte, Fort Berkeley and Snapper Point. Access is easy – only a short hike – and I suggest that you take a picnic lunch and perhaps binoculars. There is no better way to see all the racing action.
What 3 words would you use to describe Antigua?
Friendly, welcoming and beautiful.
What advice would you give young sailors who would like a career in sailing?
Work hard, have the ability to fit in and be willing to learn and understand the role assigned, keep your options open and talk to a lot of people in the industry. In my experience the best sailors don’t always make the best crew. Many other factors come into play such as dependability, integrity, and willingness to take responsibility.