Fourteen years later, Barton, a resident of San Anselmo, has recently returned home from another significant sailing regatta, but this time he is wearing a different hat. Barton spent the last few weeks of March chaperoning Team USA - 15 youth sailors between the 12-15 years old from across the U.S. - to the Opti South Americans. The regatta was the second International Optimist Dinghy Association event for 2010, held in Punta del Este, Uruguay. The event was hosted by the Yacht Club Punta del Este Race Committee who ran 12 scheduled races with two throw outs over five days of fleet racing.
Participating on Team USA under Barton's care were three Marin youth sailors - 12-year old Romain Screve, a sixth-grader at Ross public school, Kristopher Swanson, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at Kent Middle School, and Barton's 14-year-old son Jack, a freshman at Drake High. Team USA had strong results, with Screve landing in 24th position out of 168 sailors from 18 countries, and the top U.S. sailor. In team racing, USA 1 won the Nations Cup and USA 3 was second - the first time in memory that Team USA has had two teams make the finals.
According to Barton, South America has always been a powerhouse in the Opti class, placing sailors in the top three at the last four World Championships.
"We have a lot of qualifying events in light air venues and sometimes end up with a team of smaller, less experienced sailors at major international regattas," He said. "I can't think of any particular thing we can do to improve as a group. Our kids are doing great."
Of the young sailors who traveled with Barton to Uruguay, most had traveled to international sailing regattas previously so the experience wasn't entirely new.
"Some of the kids have a lot more focus than others and understand the importance of the little things," Barton said. "There is a lot of talent. These kids have grown up in these boats and sailing is second nature to them. It mostly comes down to maturity. A good Opti sailor, for the most part is a small, mature 14- or 15-year old with the time and means to train and compete internationally. There are some here and abroad who are home-schooled and actually train full time."
Screve said the regatta taught him a lot about how to read the nuances of the currents that were unique to Punte del Este, which is a spit that sticks out from the coast of Uruguay with a very protected piece of water to the inside, where the kids raced.
"Because the wind was blowing off the land, I learned a lot about how the breeze moves with the land, stuff like that," Screve said. "I was pleased with my results but kind of mad because without (a penalty) on the fourth day, last race, I would have got 13th overall. But, it's fun, you make a lot of new friends from different countries and your sailing experience level rises."
Barton knows what it's like to compete at the highest levels. He grew up surfing in the Southern California town of Encinitas and eventually learned to sail. When he moved to the Bay Area in 1981, he was lucky to fall in with the right people, enabling him to sail at a very high level while learning the game. He was a dedicated one-design sailor for more than 20 years, traveling the world with no money in his pockets in the days before pro sailing.
When they're not racing Optis, Jack and his younger brother Sam, 11, sail with their dad, a building contractor, on the family boat - a Mercury 18-foot full keel - designed in the 1940s.
"It's kind of a West Coast classic and I race it with my kids," Barton said. "They crew for me or I crew for them."
But he thinks that the Opti is an important class for kids to not only hone their skills but see the sport of sailing in its broadest perspective.
"In my mind, Opti sailing is more about making friends, learning to sail, and learning to be a good competitor, in preparation for a lifetime sport," Barton said. "It's not about winning. The kids got great experience in Uruguay and enjoyed the camaraderie that you get in sailing. The 15 kids we took down there became incredibly tight. I noticed that Jack's now got all these kids from South America as his Facebook friends. É He'll probably know a lot of them forever."
Read more San Anselmo stories at the IJ's San Anselmo section.
Marin resident Michelle Slade is a sailing journalist. Contact her about results, upcoming competitions and story ideas at www.sladecommunications.com.