Flags representing every corner of the globe transformed the streets of English Harbour into a kaleidoscope of colour for Sunday’s opening parade of the 2019 Optimist World Championship.
Pride and patriotism filled the air as 257 young sailors from 65 participating nations, plus supporters and members of the public, turned out to kickstart the much-anticipated event.
Live music from the Antigua & Barbuda Defence Force Band and the Point & Villa Iron Band accompanied the march to Nelson’s Dockyard. Crowds poured into the cherished UNESCO World Heritage Site, where the races will take place, for the momentous occasion.
The ceremony saw each team of sailors, aged 11 to 15, formally introduced on stage. Team New Zealand raised the bar with a traditional haka dance while Team Spain performed the Macarena.
But the biggest applause was reserved for host nation, Antigua & Barbuda, which will be represented on the water by Sue Agusti, 15, Tyrique Adams, 14, Theodore Spencer, who turns 13 this month, Maurice Belgrave, 12, and Shanoy Malone, 11.
The National Youth Choir sang the national anthem and the sailors’ oath – pledging sportsmanship and friendship – was read out in English and Spanish by Maloy and Agusti respectively.
It is the first time the championship, which has been running since 1962 and is widely seen as a pathway to the Olympics, is being staged in the twin island country. A record-breaking number of countries are taking part.
Antigua Yacht Club Commodore and local sailing legend Franklyn Braithwaite paid homage to the assiduous work by volunteers leading up to this year’s event.
“The day we have prepared for over the last three years is finally here,” he said during brief remarks.
“This is an opportunity for you to make lifelong friendships and be ambassadors for your country,” he told the young sailors. “Make sure you have fun and make your team proud of you.”
Minister of Foreign Affairs Chet Greene said he was delighted to be welcoming the young athletes to Antigua.
“It’s a show of strength for sailing and for our country,” he said. “Enjoy Antigua and Barbuda, sail safe and may the best team win.”
Minister of Tourism Charles Fernandez introduced Junior Minister Jody-Ann Parker to speak on his behalf.
“Never before has our beautiful nation hosted so many different countries. It’s an amazing feat and gives me an immense sense of pride,” Parker said.
The event was declared officially open by Kevin Whitcraft, President of the event’s governing body, the International Optimist Dinghy Association (IODA).
Fireworks lit up the sky before the ceremony ended on a high note with live performances by popular local singers Asher Otto and Tizzy.