I learned how to sail on the North Sound, so naturally it’s still my favourite place to sail.
I was seven years old and went to the first of many summer sailing camps and became immediately hooked.
Now that I’m older and know what it means to have “good” sailing conditions, I’ve come to realise how lucky we are to have the North Sound. Apart from the obvious but nonetheless important fact of year-round warm water and sunshine, the sound has shallow water, which means the waves are always manageable, and the on-shore breeze is always good for sailing. After years of sailing on the North Sound, I appreciate that it’s a very predictable place to sail.
In the lead up to the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, my sailing coach and I had to find some way of replicating the conditions that I would face at the games because one of the courses was an ocean course just off of Copacabana beach. We decided that I needed to go outside of the North Sound reef to match the swell I had experienced in my training trip in Rio a few weeks earlier. I sailed the short distance from the Sandbar through the opening in the reef and watched the turquoise waters suddenly disappear underneath, replaced by a deep, deep blue. Not being able to see the bottom — and knowing just how far down the bottom was — was strangely terrifying. It’s unusual to see a small sailing dinghy in the ocean like that and a Cayman Islands Joint Marine Unit patrol boat came over to make sure we were all right and knew where we were. I felt a sense of relief when I sailed back into my sea home that is the North Sound, with the sun winding down behind us.
I am often asked how sailing has molded my life and what lessons it has taught me. Although my answer is corny and expected, it’s true: The sport has shaped every aspect of my life because it was, and still is, the all-consuming passion of my life. The sport taught me what hard work is, and I mean really hard work. I’m talking about the work that I hate doing, but I do it anyway and to the best of my abilities because I know it’s important to my overall success as an athlete. That work ethic has transferred to all other aspects of my life.
Sailing has also taught me a lot about patience and delayed gratification, and what determination really means as an athlete. For many years early on in my career, I performed very poorly at an international level, but my passion and determination — and stubbornness! — to succeed allowed me to slowly, but surely, work my way up the fleet and eventually perform at the highest sporting stage in the world.
Sailing also taught me a lot about gratitude. I needed the help of others to reach my Olympics goal. I was the one actually sailing, but there was no shortage of people supporting me in every way they could. When I think of all the messages of love and support I received from my friends and family when I was in Rio, and realising just how many people were watching me, it still puts a smile on my face.
I learned many lessons alongside my sailing team. My coach, Raphael Harvey, is like my second dad and was usually the provider of sometimes harsh, but important, life lessons. My team, which was brought together by our common love of the ocean and of sailing, has now become inseparable. Whenever I think of all the memories we share, the laughter and competitions and fierce rivalry, I always smile. They make my sea home in the North Sound so much more appealing, knowing I’ll be doing what I love while being surrounded by my best and closest friends.
Although I’ve sailed all over the world and in all sorts of weather conditions, there’s nothing quite like the North Sound for me. When I’m away, I always find myself yearning for the warm, salty water on my skin and the feeling of the Cayman Islands’ sun warming my face. All these familiarities, with which I have been spoiled, have now become my home sweet sea home.
Florence Allan is a Dart Scholar who worked as an intern with Dart Real Estate this past summer. She also represented the Cayman Islands in the Women’s Laser Radial sailing event at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.