Long Beach teen represents US in Spanish regatta - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Long Beach teen represents US in Spanish regatta

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LONG BEACH, MS (WLOX) -

A Gulf Coast teenager is half a world away representing Team U.S.A. at the Palamos Optimist Trophy Nations Cup Regatta in Palamos, Spain.

Long Beach native Ricky Welch, 13, braved dangerous sailing conditions Friday and currently holds sixth place in a field of more than 350 competitors hailing from 23 countries. He is the only American sailor in the top ten after day one.

Ricky's father, Freddie Welch, was not surprised that his son is showcasing his sailing abilities on such a large stage and is doing so well.

"He walked on a boat before he walked on land," said Welch.

Holly Murray, Fleet Captain at the Long Beach Yacht Club, was Ricky's first sailing instructor. She started training Ricky at a young age, but she saw something unique.

"Six is awfully young but Ricky was always comfortable on a boat. I saw a special ability there," said Murray.

Welch said his son is a fourth generation sailor and participated in his first major regatta at nine.

Welch said this is the first time anyone in the family has put their sailing skills to the test in a serious competition, and Ricky's quest to make it to Spain was not easy.

"We had to travel to California to participate in the West Coast Championship which was the international qualifier. Ricky had to finish in the top 40 out of 350 to be chosen for the team. He finished 22."

The road to the Spanish regatta was rough, but Welch said the sailing conditions his son had to endure Friday were even more treacherous. Ricky is sailing in what is called an optimist class boat. It is an entry level competition sailing vessel and is only six feet long and operated solo.

"He had a great performance for day one with wind gusts up to 32 mph. People wouldn't normally sail in a big boat in that weather, but here is my son in a six foot boat," said Welch.

Murray agrees that these rough conditions are not something to trifle with. She said in high winds and rough seas, sailors risk capsizing and having costly equipment failures.

Despite the fierce conditions, Ricky's father says his drive to compete and succeed is what keeps his son going.

"He wakes up eating, breathing sailing. School comes first, but he is a great competitive sailor."

Murray said Ricky's dedication to sailing is extraordinary and his skill could propel him into the future.

"I'm ecstatic for him, I'm just really proud. I don't know another kid that has out this much time and dedication into his goals. His ability could take him anywhere he wants to go."

Ricky's father said like every competitive sailor, his son dreams of competing in the America's Cup, which is one of the most prestigious sailing competitions in the world.

If you want to follow Ricky's while he is competing in Spain, you can visit his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/RickyWelchTeamUSA.

You can also keep up with the rest of the regatta at http://www.palamosoptimisttrophy.org/en/default/races/race-resultsall.

Copyright 2014 WLOX. All rights reserved.

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