By Ellinor Gaillard Walters

Gavin Parker waits for the final horn and comes off the starting line with speed. He’s used to the stress; Parker has been competing on the water since he was six years old. The points spread in Sarasota had been tight and every move Parker makes on the racecourse could affect his selection.

For a 13 year old, Parker’s resume is impressive; his first sailing experience was on his father’s J-105 before he could form a full sentence. From then on he was hooked. He pursued a career in single-handed dinghies and since then Gavin has won a number of awards, including a first place finish at the Sunfish midwinters. In 2015, he got his hands on a brand new type of sailboat being tested in the sailing program at a local Charleston club and he never looked back.

His titles in the O’Pen Bic class include a close second place finish at last year’s North American championship and a gold medal finish at the Junior Olympics. Parker was one of 85 youth sailors competing in the O’Pen Bic National Championship in Sarasota, Florida, each with a dream of earning one of seven coveted seats on a plane to Bermuda in June, where they will have the opportunity to showcase their abilities on international television and meet their heroes at the 35th annual Louis Vuitton America’s Cup. His father, Edward, looked on anxiously. Parker had been consistently putting down top-10 finishes, but it wasn’t quite enough. By the end of the weekend Parker was just a point out of seventh place.

The call

Less than a week later the phone rang, Nevin Sayre, head spokesperson for Bic and the AC Endeavour project was on the line. One of the top seven competitors had dropped out and Gavin was the obvious choice to go in his place. When asked about answering that phone call Gavin says he turned to his parents and made the comment, “How has my luck not run out yet?” Parker will get the experience that most youth sailors only dream about; once in Bermuda, he will compete as a part of the United States O’Pen Bic team against 32 other youth sailors from all over the world and the medal race of the O’Pen Bic event will be televised as the half-time show between race one and two of the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup. Parker has a unique “dirt-under-his-fingernails” pride.

“Two years ago (upon learning about the opportunity), I set my goals high. It was my dream to race O’pen Bics in Bermuda during the America’s Cup Event. Hard work and dedication are finally paying off,” he says.

The America’s Cup is one of the most prestigious and the single oldest trophy in the history of sports. This year, the Oracle Team USA will be defending their title after a harrowing battle with Emirates Team New Zealand in 2013. Their defeat of the New Zealand team has been referred to as “one of the greatest comebacks in sports history.” The America’s Cup will be raced on foiling catamarans called AC72s, which boast a 2,800-square-foot main wing-sail. Parker and his peers will be sharing airtime with the most advanced sailboats ever engineered.

When asked if he’s nervous, Parker is cool, calm and collected. “I’m just excited to participate in the big race and meet with kids from around the world. I think that will be pretty cool,” he says. In addition to showcasing his sailing abilities, Gavin will get to spend time in the America’s Cup race village, exclusive behind-the-scenes access and an up close look at the racing.

The vessel

Don’t be confused by his young age; Parker and his competitors are some of the fiercest sailors globally. It takes guts to be presented with a brand new, non-typical sailboat and master it in only a year. The O’Pen Bic is a new-generation skiff, designed specifically for youth sailors and boasts one of the fastest growing classes in the world. The Bic is the predecessor of the Opti, a square pram. The Opti is an excellent learning boat and, until the popularity of the Bic increased, it was the only option for a junior looking to literally learn the ropes of competitive sailing.

The Bic is very different from the Opti and more closely resembles a windsurfer, with a completely open deck and a more streamlined design making it extremely responsive and equally stable. While the Opti has a rigging system that requires a variety lines for its classic canvas sail and gaff rig, the designers of Bic made a simpler rigging system and a sturdier, mono-film sail. The Bic also comes equipped with a self-bailing system, unlike the Opti, which has a tendency to fill with water in swell or after a capsize. Overall, the Bic is less susceptible to damage, lighter and more efficiently designed. The Bic class has already set itself apart from traditional sailing by creating an “anything-goes” regatta style with innovative courses and rules, where sailors may be asked to flip their boat on a leg of the race or stand up while rounding a mark.

The Endeavour program

The U.S. and the Charleston sailing community could not ask for a better representative to send than Gavin Parker. The Endeavour program puts forth one effort to benefit the community in each America’s Cup location and Parker will surely be an exemplary team member. Nevin Sayre, class spokesperson for the Bic says, “It is a great honor that Gavin Parker has qualified to represent North America at the America’s Cup Endeavour O’Pen in Bermuda this June. The America’s Cup is the cutting edge of sailing performance.” In the eighth grade at Moultrie Middle, Gavin is truly a breath of fresh air to meet; reading through the comments on his GoFundMe page confirm he’s the right man for the job. “He will be a role model for many other up and coming junior sailors,” writes Kurt Oberle, a junior sailing advocate.

Peers who have sailed against Gavin highlight his worry-free attitude and excellent sportsmanship as some of his best traits. His coach and director of sailing at Carolina Yacht Club, Naomi Van den Bergh, speaks highly of him, and says: “Gavin is a naturally talented sailor with a good head on his shoulders. He has great boat speed and his tactics keep improving! I am very proud of his accomplishments and his positive attitude. Each day (at the National Championship) he kept climbing up in the fleet. His dedication and passion for sailing are inspiring! It’s been an absolute pleasure coaching him.”

This year’s Endeavour program hopes that Gavin and his teammates will inspire other youngsters, in both Bermuda and worldwide, to pursue sailing. The O’Pen Bic boats Parker will be competing in will also be used in local STEAM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) programs in the future.

Gavin Parker’s race will be televised and live streamed on June 18th and the America’s Cup will be broadcast June 17-18th and 24-27th. To find out more information please visit the America’s Cup Endeavour website at americascup.com/en/endeavour.html.

Those interested in donating to Parker’s Endeavour campaign may visit https://www.gofundme.com/gavins-ac-endeavour-campaign. Charleston offers many opportunities for junior sailors through local yacht clubs and the Charleston Community Sailing program. Sailing is a lifelong sport, which teaches excellent sportsmanship and offers camaraderie like no other.

 

Ellinor Walters is a Charleston area writer and photographer who has been attempting to develop gills for 21 years now. Her proudest accomplishment is memorizing the entire phonetic alphabet. She is reachable by smoke signals, flags and Morse code, but for most reliable communication, just shoot her an e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Mercury newspaper racks are located at the following locations:

The Meeting Street Inn

Clair's Service Station at 334 Folly Rd.

Harris Teeter on Houston-Northcutt Blvd.

The Square Onion in I'On

Mt. Pleasant Library on Mathis Ferry Rd.