Ryan Garraty likes sailing, he said, for “the waves and the wind, and the feeling of winning.”

About to turn 13 years old, with his birthday on May 10, the Marco Island Charter Middle School seventh grader recently had opportunities for experiencing all of his favorite things about sailing. Competing in the 2018 Optimist Team Trials in Key Biscayne over the last week of April, Ryan qualified for the USA National Sailing Team in the Optimist Dinghy category, which hosts sail races around the world.

He has been sailing competitively since he first soloed when he was five years old, and you might say he comes from a family with saltwater in their veins. His mother Gigi Garraty, who teaches art at MICMS, grew up sailing in Cohasset, Mass., and father Robert, a Marco Island realtor, comes from Watch Hill, Rhode Island, a sailing Mecca. Ryan’s younger brother, Colin, 8, recently took up the sport as well.

The family has an assortment of boats at their Marco Island waterfront home, including a J-30 sloop, a couple of Boston Whalers, at least two Optimist dinghies, and miscellaneous kayaks. They took a 170ft. Whaler with them to the regatta at Key Biscayne, and were out on the course as a safety boat, allowing them to cheer on Ryan from a short distance.

Ryan sails out of the Coral Reef Yacht Club in Coconut Grove. During sailing season, they spend most weekends pursuing Ryan’s passion, to the point where they are contemplating sailing the J-boat to Miami and basing it there, allowing them to live aboard when they are in town for sailing events.

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“We go over every weekend. It’s a big-time commitment, but we get to spend some good time together,” said Gigi Garraty. They have traveled as far as San Fransisco for Ryan’s racing, with their coach driving cross-country pulling sailboats on a trailer.

The Optimist dinghies, which Rob Garraty said make up the largest one-design class of sailboat in the world, have an overall length of under eight feet, and are not large enough to carry grown men.

“The weight limit is 200 lbs., and it wouldn’t be fun to sail” for someone the size of his dad, said Ryan. He wouldn’t be likely to win, either. The boats, gaff-rigged sloops with lateen sails, are all identical, although Ryan and other sailors do everything they can to coax another knot of speed from their craft.

“You wax the boat, and new sails are key,” he said. In fact, he has a complete new boat, molded from a solid block of aluminum. The cost, said his father, is “about $6,000 all in.”

But, said Ryan, “it’s really all about skill. Where you start on the starting line, tacking on wind shifts, being on the right side of the course, all sorts of slight maneuvers.”

“Sailing in clear air – not shadowed by your competitor’s boat,” added Rob Garraty – these are what separates the winning sailor.

“Did I mention he’s competitive?” asked Gigi Garraty of her son. “He’s currently taking two high school courses (as a seventh grader!) honors algebra and Spanish 1. He is highly motivated to succeed in everything he does.”

Ryan has accumulated a serious shelf of trophies, laughingly called “Ryan’s shrine,” rhyming shrine with Ryan, by his mother. They include the Trevor Moore Memorial Naples Cup trophy, named in honor of Naples Olympic sailor Trevor Moore, who died in a tragic boating accident in Biscayne Bay.

The family is looking to find sponsors to help Ryan continue his sailing endeavors, in hopes of competing at a national regatta.