Sailing instructor with a vision
As a teenager, Rajae Woods raced in regattas worldwide.
The hardest part wasn’t qualifying for the championships, it was getting there.
The 29-year-old believes Visionary Sailing Academy, a programme he started at West End Sailboat Club this summer, will help remedy that.
“Sailing is not a cheap sport,” said Mr Woods, the club’s sailing director. “The equipment is very expensive, so fundraising to get equipment and then fundraising to be able to travel to compete was probably the hardest thing. What I’m working towards is a year-round programme — after school, Saturday classes, adult private lessons, group lessons — so that we can get that parent who says it’s too much money to send their child to sailing.”
The Sandys club is hosting a fundraiser at Snorkel Park on Saturday to get that in place.
Meanwhile, Mr Woods will introduce Visionary Sailing Academy to CedarBridge Academy when the senior school reopens next week.
Students held fundraisers to get it included in the curriculum, raising more than $5,000, and will earn school credits for participating.
Mr Woods hopes the programme will eventually be sponsored by government, and implemented at schools across the island. His idea is that sailing could then become part of interschool competitions.
“There’s a lot going on at that age,” he said. “That’s also where a lot of the mischief happens and teens start to stray. [This] can develop character. Hopefully it will develop some independence to have the strength to not get peer pressured.
“I know personally, that because I was involved, I didn’t want to get involved in anything else.”
Mr Woods started sailing at Sandys Boat Club at age 9. He spent two summers there before his talent got him recommended to the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club.
“I sailed as much as I could — after school, during the holidays — if there was a week clinic, I would go,” he said.
He represented Bermuda in every regatta he could, but at 18 took a break.
While he doesn’t want to shift the blame, he said that he wasn’t pushed to pursue the sport. Despite that, he got back into it three years ago, qualifying as a senior instructor.
He joined the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club when its sailing director took a role with the America’s Cup but left to run the programme in Somerset.
“I decided that I was going to dive right in,” he said. “I saw the opportunity. I was hoping to ride the wave of the America’s Cup with the awareness of sailing for children and go from there.”
He feels the West End Sailboat Club was a bit overlooked during the America’s Cup. He hopes that Visionary Sailing Academy will also help fund improvements that need to be made on the club.
“I think it’s the best location on the island when it comes to sailing,” Mr Woods said. “There’s a small beach here, we’re right next the Sound — real open water.”
In April, he trained at the Dinghy Academy in Valencia, Spain under top international coaches such as Ed Wright, a Finn class sailor campaigning for the 2020 Summer Olympics.
“My love is in the racing. I love to compete; I love to race,” Mr Woods said. “The biggest issue I have now is there’s only one Finn on the island.
“When it comes to training, I have to raise funds to bring another Finn to the island. I’d love to get out there competing again. I just need the backing.”
His immediate dream is to bring needed encouragement to young people. He has taught the Optimist class all summer to 8 to 14 year-olds. Older teenagers, such as those at CedarBridge, will sail in the 420 class dinghy, a double-handed boat, to learn teamwork.
“I will be that person for these young people here,” he said. “This summer’s been great. I’ve had children that have never sailed before, sailing that same day.
“Right now I’m trying to build a group of steady children that want to stick to sailing, that I can develop and grow to a level and standard that they need to be to get to that elite level.”
• Look out for West End Sailboat Club’s fundraiser at Snorkel Park on Saturday at 8pm. Facebook: Visionary Sailing Academy
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