Cranbury’s Barbano makes U.S. National Team

   It pays to be Optimistic.
   Cranbury resident Steven Barbano, who turns 13 in June, will represent the United States in sailing this summer as a member of the U.S. Optimist National Team. The Optimist refers to the class of boat Barbano sails, but it can also refer to the chipper attitude the young sailor had in battling strong winds to achieve his goal.
   Barbano qualified in late April at the U.S. National Team trials in Corpus Christi, Tex. The team trials is an invitation-only regatta where the best sailors in the United States are given the opportunity to compete.
   John Barbano and Dave Reynolds of Pennsylvania, towed the sailboats down by car on a Wednesday.
   "It’s very long and a bit gut wrenching," said John Barbano, Steven’s father, concerning the equipment standards. "Even though the exact same equipment passed last time, it does not mean it will pass the next time, due to wood warping, sails stretching, or even heat expansion of masts and booms. It’s just never a fun, easy process."
   The following day Steve Barbano, Mike Reynolds and Graham Todd, who all sail at Long Beach Island, caught a 5:55 a.m. flight from Philadelphia.
   They arrived at the Corpus Christi Yacht Club just in time for a 1 p.m. practice. Teamed with four other members from nearby New Jersey yacht clubs, and their coach Jason Evans from Naples, Florida, they began a three-hour practice in winds and seas they had never seen before.
   The Corpus Christi winds were between 20 and 40 MPH with swells of three to six feet.
   "That was fun, but I had no clue if I could hold the boat down for those hour-long races," said Steve, who only weighs 85 pounds.
   The conditions held true for the next three days as winds peaked at 35 MPH with five-foot waves. The winds were a challenge for the lighter sailors and Barbano barely kept the boat upright heading upwind. He always made up 25 to 30 positions on the long downward beats, however, earning him the nickname of "Downwind Animal" from his coach.
   Barbano said he "just did his thing" going downwind, using his light weight to his advantage and using techniques learned from New Zealand coaches Andrew Brown and Mark Kennedy.
   By the end of the nine-race, three-day regatta, Barbano finished high enough in the rankings to be invited onto the national team. He has spent the month of May participating in four national team practice in Marblehead, Mass. A full summer of regattas begins in Belgium and/or Bermuda in early July, where he will represent the U.S. in major international regattas.
   "I feel very lucky to have made it this year with the conditions I was sailing in down there in Texas," Barbano said. "Now I am looking forward to sailing against the best sailors in the world, it should be a lot of fun."