Emmet Ward, 14, of Largo in action before leaving for Germany.
CLEARWATER – An elite group of young sailors from the Clearwater Community Sailing Center is now in Germany, competing in a world-class regatta.
The five-member team left on Wednesday, Oct. 24 and will return on Monday, Oct. 29. During their time in Berlin, they will be competing against the national champions from 16 different countries.
The group sails Optimist class boats and are between the ages of 12 and 15. They recently won the U.S. National championship, and that earned them the invitation to Germany. Their coach, Eric Bardes, 46, of St. Petersburg admits the competition will be stiff, but they have a chance to win it all.
“I know some of the coaches of the other teams, and they are all good, so the kids will be good,” Bardes said. “We certainly have the ability to win it or come close, especially if the conditions are good.”
Bardes has been coaching sailing since 1986. Before that, he sailed for what seems like a lifetime.
“My parents owned a boat, so I’ve been sailing all my life,” he said. “I began sailing competitively when I was 8 years old; I grew up on a boat.”
Although the team sails out of Clearwater, only one member is from the local area. Emmet Ward, 14, is from Largo and is a ninth-grader at Osceola High School. The others are: Nick Hernandez,
Hailey Schifman and Nico Schultz from Sarasota and Carolyn Corbett from Norfolk, Va. The team practices three out of every four weekends. Carolyn, like the rest, is expected to be in Clearwater for the workout.
Emmet Ward, the young man from Largo, is no doubt typical of the other team members. He began sailing when he was 5 years old. It began with a summer sailing camp.
“It got better from there until I got invited to Team FOR,” Ward sad.
The FOR stands for Florida Oceanic Racing and it is this team that is going to Berlin.
Overseas trips are nothing new to Ward.
“I was in Italy in March of this year,” he said. “That was on Team USA. We’ve also been to St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands twice.”
If there is one thing these young sailors have in common, it is their love of the sport.
“I really love going sailing, it is so much fun and it is always different each time you go out, you never have two days the same,” Ward said. “It is fun going around the country and meeting new people and seeing different places.”
Competitive sailing is not all fun and games, however. Ward admits it takes considerable effort to be successful.
“It is really hard work it takes a lot of strength” he said. “If it is windy it is harder, really hard work.”
There also has to be considerable effort on the part of the parents. Coach Bardes says they are crucial to the team’s success.
“For my particular program the parents are invaluable,” Bardes said. “There has to be cooperation to get things done, they have to organize rides, accommodation and so on.”
If the team is to be successful in Berlin, then that hard work is going to have to come into play. Coach Bardes is convinced it will.
“They are a good group of kids, they are very mature,” Bardes said. “They had to win the national championship to get there. They are well qualified, they work hard and they are a good group together.”