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Junior optimist

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  • | 4:00 a.m. September 18, 2014
Bryce Tone, 11, trains twice a week at the Sarasota Sailing Squadron. Photo by Jen Blanco
Bryce Tone, 11, trains twice a week at the Sarasota Sailing Squadron. Photo by Jen Blanco
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Bryce Tone peered over the edge of his sailboat in amazement.

As Tone, 11, maneuvered through the crystal-clear blue waters off the coast of Belize with the wind whipping through his white-blond hair, he took it all in.

But with his competitors steadily making up ground, the Sarasota Sailing Squadron sailor quickly turned back to the race.

Tone pushed on through the swells in the 15-foot deep water and coasted to a first-place finish at the International Invitational Aug. 17.

“It was just amazing how clear the water was,” Tone says. “(At first) I was really scared I was going to run aground, but then they told me it was 15 feet.”

Tone was the lone sailor from the United States to participate in the International Invitational, which featured 24 sailors — the rest were from Belize and Mexico. The regatta took place over two days, with each sailor sailing a total of six races.

Tone won his first five races before backing off in the regatta’s final race to join a couple of the other sailors with whom he had become friends over the five-day trip. Before long, the sailors were circling a group of stingrays and doing backflips off their boats.

“I treated it like any other regatta, but the last race was a fun race,” Tone says. “It didn’t matter what place I got.”

Tone’s mother, Karen, who has been coaching at the Sarasota Sailing Squadron for the past two-and-a-half years, was initially contacted by San Pedro Sailing Sailing Club founder and coach Amy Knox about having a team from the Squadron come to Belize for the International Invitational.

Although Karen Tone wasn’t able put a Sarasota team together in time, she decided, having been to Belize once before, to take her son to participate in the regatta.

“In sailing, you see the same people all of the time,” Karen Tone says. “Everyone has their ranking and everyone fills in and falls into place. But this time, we didn’t know anybody. It was completely out of the blue.”

Tone, who has traveled across the world as a member of Team USA, initially didn’t know what to expect but was eager for the opportunity to sail with youth sailors from Belize and Mexico.

“I was really excited,” Tone says. “I really love traveling to different countries and visiting new places.”

After a couple of flights, the Tones finally boarded a tiny plane to the island.

After landing, the Tones headed directly to the beach where they met the San Pedro Sailing Club and the Puerto Aventuras Sailing Club. It didn’t take long for Tone to see the vast differences between sailing in Sarasota and Belize.

Tone was used to padding his boat and transporting it on a dolly. But in Belize, the sailors simply hoisted their boats, carried them back to shore and placed them directly on the ground.

“It was surprising to see how good those kids were without all of the things that we have here in the U.S.,” Karen Tone says. “They were so interested in Bryce. To them, the U.S. is the ideal.”

In addition to sailing, Tone enjoyed spending time with the local sailors. Without the comforts of air conditioning, the streets became a gathering place for the locals, who would offer high-fives to Tone as he drove by on a golf cart.

“I learned how spoiled we are in the U.S.,” Tone says.

Tone was a toddler the first time he set foot on a sailboat while attending summer camps with his mom, who is a sailing coach. He competed in his first sailing tournament when he was 5 years old.

Tone initially got into the sport for the social aspect, but by the time he was 9 years old, Tone had moved up to the top fleet. After joining the more advanced fleet, Tone qualified for Team FOR in Clearwater, which recruits the area’s top sailors.

Since then, Tone has become one of the youngest sailors to compete in optimist racing, the largest racing fleet in the world, having been named to the United States national team each of the past two years. The team comprises the top 30 sailors, ages 15 and under, from across the country.

“It’s a very complex sport,” Karen Tone says. “To be his age and on it is pretty cool. It’s totally a test of skill.”

Over the past two years, Tone has traveled across the world with Team USA, competing in Italy, Bermuda and the Virgin Islands, among other places. About a year ago Tone joined the Sarasota Sailing Squadron, where he trains twice a week.

Tone will return to the water for his next regatta the third week of October in preparation for the Optimist Mid-winter Championship in November, in New Orleans, where he hopes to qualify for Team USA’s spring team. Eventually, Tone has aspirations of qualifying for the world championship team, comprised of the top five sailors in the nation, and competing in the South American Championships.

Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].



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