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Friday 9th November 2018

In our series of ordinary people doing extra-ordinary things today’s story is a bit more personal, purely because it starts with a young boy who I used to see at the beach with his mom and sister as a toddler. From early on, hugely water confident and always with a big smile on his face, Jules Mitchell was a true water baby.

I first met the Mitchell family at Darkwood Beach which was an early favourite of ours when we first moved to Antigua.  The idyllically simple beach bar and groups of regulars who visited the beach most Sunday afternoons became friends by debating loudly about everything in Antigua, from politics to Calypso. Big belly laughs and maybe a glass of rum or two completed the perfect wind down to the weekend. The eldest of two children, Jules was a happy go lucky kid who grew up on that beach as the family lived in Crab Hill.

The day before his 11th birthday, just over 9 years ago, the youth programme in Jolly Harbour began teaching kids from the community to sail and Jules was on that programme. Instructor Sylvester Thomas taught Jules to sail straight from North Beach in Jolly Harbour.

Two years later Jules began his racing career with his first overseas race in Tortola as part of a 6 man team in an IC24 at the Premiers Cup. He can give a long list of racing both in Antigua, regionally and internationally where he has competed in Laser Radial and latterly Laser with him winning the Caribbean Dinghy Championship in 2018.

Jules winning Laser in CDC with Sponsor Shenez Hall from Budget Marine

His first Antigua Sailing Week was on Blue Peter in 2011 and since then he has raced on Biwi Magic, as crew on NSA Spirit and in the last two years as skipper on NSA Spirt culminating in a fiercely battled and well-deserved class win in ASW 2018.

Before I sat down with Jules I had planned to write this story about his journey to this point in the hope that it would inspire other youths to get involved in the sport, but in talking more it's clear Jules is at a major crossroad in his career.

His passion and priority is to get to the 2020 Olympics to compete in the Laser Class. Having raced at various events worldwide in laser radial and then stepping up into laser at what was a lightweight for the class, he has finally come into his own with the win at the CSA Caribbean Dinghy Championship (CDC). His consistent racing resulted in 3 first places. His biggest competitor, Olympian Andrew Lewis from Trinidad, won 4 races, but Jules maintained second place in all the races he didn’t win and this resulted in a lower score overall.

But time is running out for Jules to make it to the next Olympics. In order to campaign he needs to raise the thick end of US$50,000. Three events needs to be attended, the Caribbean Laser Mid-Winter Regatta in Cabarete as a practice race with a much bigger fleet and therefore important experience, the South American Laser Championships where there are 4 spots up for grabs for the PANAM Games, and the PANAM games where there are 4 spots to sailors who haven’t already qualified for the Olympics.

It sounds really simple but the truth of the matter is for a youth like Jules who doesn’t come from a privileged background, he has chosen the wrong sport.

An almost tongue in cheek article in Time magazine in 2016 listed sailing as one of the best sports for a wealthy family to get their kids into, purely because due to the high price of entry, the competition was less fierce.  That’s all well and good when you have the backing, but if you don’t what are the options?

Each event comes with an entrance fee, charter boat, coach boat and coach fees (if you can’t afford to bring your own coach with you), a set of sails and of course accommodation and flights, and we all know how easy and cheap it is to do regional and international travel from Antigua! Added to that constant training and a heavy protein and expensive diet all play a big part in his preparation. 6,000 calories a day is what he is going to need to bulk up his naturally slim frame to racing standards.

If he’s lucky he can get some National Olympic Committee (NOC) funding, should he be lucky enough to win a place at the Olympics.  But how does he qualify if the funds are not in place to get him to the necessary events?

The crux at this point is that Jules needs to become a brand. Sitting opposite him, I asked him, why if I had US$40,000 would I invest my funds in him. He initially blanched, and said, ‘I have never been asked that question’, but very quickly the words were tripping out of his mouth, and how I wished I had the dollars!

He starts with, ‘I’m hardworking, passionate and disciplined, an independent decision maker.’ Of course, all of this said with a huge confident smile from a youth who is easy on the eye and already with some media training behind him, so eloquence should be added to the skills list. And don’t forget that he is already an award-winning skipper. Did I mention that he really, really wants to get to the top of his sport? But he’s under no illusion that it’s going to be really hard work, and he’s definitely up for the challenge.

Jules third from right with the crew form NSA Spirit and Minister of Tourism, the Honourable Charles Fernandez on stage as winners of CS 7 in ASW 2018.

We went on to discuss his position of skipper on keelboats. His maturity and thoughtfulness shone through at this point. Having been part of winning crews over his short but eventful career, he has worked out that the best sailors are not always the best performing crew. For him, ego has to be left at the dock, and even there it doesn’t have a place. Jules carefully selected the crew for his 2018 ASW win and they have worked hard as a team on communication skills and fitness to ensure they perform at their optimum.  They get to maintain the boat in full, so they have done fiberglass work, designed sails, coordinated the training programme, and of course on the water has to make decisions that include taking calculated risks while running a tight, fair ship. 

Jules explains he’s happy to get input from the team and offers everyone the opportunity for input but everyone is clear that the final decision is his. And it seems that his approach is reaping dividends in terms of his performance. He is incredibly humble and requires his team to be the same while all working towards the same goal. He does however feel that everyone involved in the sport is a little too focused on the skipper, especially the media. Jules said, ‘Each crew member has to play their part in full in order for them to gain a win and when we do win I generally am not the one holding the trophies and taking all the accolades.’

I asked Jules what his advice would be to someone wanting to get into the sport and what does he get out of it? His take is that it is one of the most social sports anyone can do and that it opens you up to a world of interesting people who think outside of the box. The lifestyle alone means the people are interesting, and the fact that the sport requires sportsmanship means for him that in general what you get is fair racing and fair people.  He also extols the virtue that he gets to exercise his brain and not just his body. Samantha Yom interning for Singapore Sailing sums up a very similar list of benefits.  He says it buys you a high level of independence and not only teaches you great skills but also offers huge career opportunities like no other, and his final words are that although the sport is expensive, it’s a warm sport with good vibes!

What he is clear on and I am convinced by the end of the interview is that he would be a great brand ambassador for the right brand. He can bring all of those credentials to a brand. He really is the poster boy of 2019 but for who?

Jules with the class of 2018 at the National Sailing Academy

If you have a brand that wants to be attached to this kind of positivity, ability, discipline and focus at such a young age, just 20, you can find him at the National Sailing Academy where he is a part time instructor. Of the academy and his job, he loves the fact that he can balance working with the need to train. But he is also very clear on the huge value of the academy to the yachting industry and the yachting industry to Antigua.

Eventually he is focused on joining a professional campaign such as the TP52 series, but first, the 2020 Olympics. Can you help him get there?

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