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Local Youth Making Mark on National Sailing Scene

Gulf Breeze's Gil Hackel and partner, Ashtyn Tierney. Photo: Sail Newport

Gil Hackel, of Gulf Breeze, and his sailing partner Ashtyn Tierney, of Costa Mesa, California, recently won the 2023 c420 New England Championship in sailing held at Shelter Island Yacht Club in New York. Shortly thereafter, the duo placed second in the c420 North American Championships.


Melissa Hackel, shares that Pensacola Bay was a great place for her son, Gil, to foster a love for the sport and create a solid foundation to launch his sailing career.

Although neither she nor her husband, Josh Hackel (now the team physician for American Magic) were sailors, she enrolled her children in the summer sailing camps at the Pensacola Yacht Club (PYC) for them to try a new sport and have some summer fun. Gil was five years old when he climbed into an Opti sailboat for the first time.

He immediately took to the sport and after competing well in a series of regattas, earned a spot on the United States Optimist National Team. He excelled and ended his Opti career ranked as the second-best Opti sailor in the world at the 2021 Opti Worlds in Riva del Garda, Italy.

Hackel and Thai sailor Weka Bhanubandh traded first and second positions throughout the entire competition.

Gil has since aged out of the Optimist (Opti) dinghy category, a small, one-person vessel and typically the first competition boat for many young sailors. But his achievements in that category have already launched him successfully in his new class, the c420. The c420 is a two-person dinghy that forms the base of many local, high school, and collegiate programs in North America.

Two additional young sailors chasing championship dream are Pensacola sailors Wesley Hoffman and Cameron Bellina. The boys had a goal to make the cut for team trials for the United States Optimist National Team. So this summer they, along with several other sailors at PYC, completed an intense three-week training session with European Optimist Coach Álvaro Martínez Iribarne of Malaga, Spain. Coach Álvaro Martínez Iribarne is a former student of PYC Sailing Director César Travado.

Wesley Hoffman makes the cut for USA team trials.
Wesley Hoffman

After this training session and attending a USODA Horizon clinic in Rockwall, Texas, Wesley had a successful performance at Texas Sailing Race Week. Based on his performance and at several regattas this season, he was selected for team trials set for San Francisco in April 2024. Cameron competed in the U.S. National Championship this week and earned a spot there for the National team trials.

Cameron Bellina
Cameron Bellina

The top 36 sailors will make the USA National Team. Wesley says, “I look forward to training here in Pensacola in preparation for the spring competition.”

Sailing is embedded into the story and historical timeline of Pensacola, so it is not surprising that some of the world’s best sailors come here to train and that some of the country’s best sailors develop here.

All through the summer season, you may have seen little white sails dotted across the horizon. Under each of those sails are kids from all over Pensacola and neighboring states who come here to learn how to tie knots, rig boats, navigate the water, and read the wind.

The lessons in sailing from mastering skills, developing strength, and building endurance will stay with the student forever. Learning to sail teaches the sailor how to anticipate things, how to pay attention to little details, what ranks in priority, and how to be resourceful.

In a promotional video produced about sailing in Pensacola, Terry Hutchinson, Skipper and President of Sailing Operation for American Magic said, “In my humble opinion, [Pensacola] is almost a sailing mecca.”

Tyson Lamond, the organization’s COO says, “For me, it’s the best foiling location in America,” in reference to Pensacola’s flat water, deep channel, and consistent sea breeze. Close proximity to the Gulf of Mexico provides diverse conditions that are easily accessible.

Pensacola also offers nearly year-round opportunities to sail. If you are interested in learning to sail, there are numerous opportunities for instruction. The Pensacola Sailing Academy offers classes with information here.

The PYC Satori Foundation exists to inspire interest in and encourage and promote the sport of sailing and yachting and a broad range of maritime activities. For more on this organization, click here.

The Pensacola Yacht Club is a private club for members and their guests to enjoy organized navigation, safety, and recreational water activities. For more on the PYC Sailing School opportunities and instruction for members and non-members, click here.