ST. THOMAS — A near-record 114 junior sailors — ranging in age from 8 to 15 — from five continents will converge on the U.S. Virgin Islands this weekend for two major races: Thursday’s Tote Maritime Team Race and the 27th annual International Optimist Regatta, which begins Friday.

This weekend’s events make up the largest annual Optimist regatta in the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Caribbean. What makes it unique is the combination of instruction, team and fleet racing all in one week, with beginning and advanced sailors alike.

What’s more, this year the event welcomes near-record international participation with sailors representing 13 countries and territories: Antigua, Argentina, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Canada, Chile, Ecuador, Hong Kong, Ireland, Malta, Puerto Rico, the United States and all three of the USVI’s islands.

“We’re pleased to welcome this number of international sailors, which means another excellent year, great competition and an opportunity for our junior competitors to renew and make new friendships,” regatta director Hollis Jenkins said.

“Now in its third decade, we are very proud that several past winners and participants of the International Optimist Regatta have gone on to become college All-Americans and on the world sailing stage — first-ranked match racers, one-design class world champions, Olympians and team members of America’s Cup campaigns.”

Two sailors to especially watch this weekend are Richard Schulthesis, representing the Malta Young Sailors Club in San Pawl il-Ba’ar, Malta; and Tommie Sitzmann, who sails for the Fishing Bay Yacht Club in Deltaville, Va.

Schulthesis finished fourth and Sitzmann fifth overall in the Gold Fleet at the 2018 Optimist World Championships in Limassol, Cyprus. This is Schulthesis’ first time competing in the International Optimist Regatta, while Sitzmann returns from last year’s races, where he finished third overall.

The American sailor will be joined at this event by other members of the U.S. National Worlds Team including Thommie Grit of Florida’s Sarasota Yacht Club, Gil Hackel and Jack Redmond, both of Florida’s Lauderdale Yacht Club; and Samara Walshe of Massachusetts’ Edgartown Yacht Club.

Another international sailor to watch will be Benjamin Guzman. Guzman, representing CNP Algarrobo in Chile, finished third overall at the 2019 Optimist South American Championships, held in his home country in April.

These sailors and the rest of the championship fleet will be up against tough competition from U.S. Virgin Islands sailors, including those who will represent Team ISV at the 2019 Optimist World Championships in Antigua in July — Tanner Krygsveld from St. Thomas, Winn Majette and Alejo Di Blasi from St. John, and Milo Miller and J.J. Klemplen from St. Croix.

Trophies will be awarded to the top five sailors in each fleet and top three overall.

Additional trophies include the Peter Ives’ Perpetual Trophy, the Chuck Fuller Sportsmanship Award and the top female sailor.

The Sea Star Perpetual Trophy will be inscribed with the names of the sailors on the winning team racing team.

A new Perpetual Trophy, introduced in 2017, is inscribed with the overall winners from the past 26 years.

This year’s event will follow an eco-friendly theme. Sailors will be encouraged to recycle all plastic water bottles, use the reusable water bottle in the goodie bag throughout the regatta, keep all lunch bags and wrapping out of the water, pick up any trash on shore and accept drinks without straws.