Carlos Aguilar: Remembering a Life Well-Sailed

Oct. 30, 2007 — These days, when 11-year-old Nicholas Gartner walks into his home away from home, the St. Thomas Yacht Club, Carlos Aguilar won't be there to scoop him up and toss him into the air.
"He was so good to me," said a struggling Nicholas, before burying his head in his mother's chest.
Nor will Carlos be there to offer him and other young sailors the tips he was so renowned for bestowing over the years. A world-class sailor, Aguilar was passionate about helping boys and girls master the ability to tack their sailboats through the Caribbean winds that called him here some 25 years ago.
The 53-year-old has been rendered a memory and a legend after two bullets tore through his midsection Oct. 16. It was a devastating injury. But Aguilar — whose salty toughness prompted him as a child to pull the cast off his broken arm so he could swim, surf and sail, and which, several days ago, drove him to chase the apparent thugs who had just robbed his house — hung on. He hung on for 10 days and through multiple operations until he was pronounced dead the afternoon of Oct. 25 at Roy Lester Schneider Hospital, with family and friends surrounding him.
"It's kind of hard to believe," lamented 14-year-old William Bailey, another Aguilar protege. "I was just hoping it wasn't true."
Bailey was on board Aguilar's IC24 sailing boat in 2003 when Aguilar won the Rolex Regatta, one of four world-renowned sailing regattas held annually in the Caribbean.
"Carlos would always — whenever you were around him, he'd put his hand on your shoulder and pull you close to him and hold you," said Bailey of Aguilar, whose relationship with young sailors cast him as a father figure to many youth.
"He treated me like I was his daughter," said Mimi Roller, 16, a top-ranked Caribbean sailor. Aguilar coached her during a 2006 competition in South America. "Every time we were walking by vendors, he offered to buy me anything I wanted."
Aguilar, a native of El Salvador, moved to the territory shortly after college and had a lifelong passion for the ocean. Upon his arrival he found that St. Thomas was, in fact, an ancestral home. His great-grandfather is said to have been involved in the founding of the St. Thomas Synagogue, according to Aguilar's mother, Helen Levy de Aguilar.
A highly skilled architect with the firm Springline Architects, he was considered extraordinary for being able to do much more than design.
"In construction, you have people who do excavation and those who do concrete and rough carpentry and finish carpentry," explained Kevin Qualls, a partner in Springline. "There are very few people who can do all of it because it takes a different mindset. But Carlos was that kind of guy. He could physically do it. All of it."
Aguilar was focused and precise, a perfectionist whose sensibilities demanded pure materials and simple forms in harmony with surroundings, Qualls said.
A quiet, enigmatic man who shunned casual acquaintances in favor of a handful of deep friendships, Aguilar leaves behind a legacy — not just in terms of his standing as an aggressive, accomplished sailor, but as a man who cultivated the sport in young enthusiasts.
"The kids just fell in love with Carlos," said Bill Canfield, a good friend and manager of the St. Thomas Yacht Club. "That's the effect he had. He was a tremendous mentor and role model, and someone who cared deeply. You don't automatically replace that."
Aguilar frequently teamed up with his wife, Verian, herself an accomplished sailor, to chaperone sailings trips to a variety of locales. A 20-year veteran of Antilles School, Verian Aguilar taught early-childhood classes for years and now serves as a counselor to students and parents.
"The school is very, very sad for Verian's loss," said Lower School Head Jean Barrows. "She has touched so many lives at the school for so many years … and some of the older students knew Carlos through sailing connections. People are just incredibly sad."
Aguilar was shot before the horrified eyes of locals as well as tourists, whose vehicles were in the front line of an accident that erupted into gunfire. His East End home had just been burglarized, and Aguilar tailed a suspicious car to Sapphire Beach, where he was shot mid afternoon after the two vehicles collided.
Akeel T. Codrington, 19, was arrested Oct. 22 and charged with possession of stolen property, reckless endangerment and driving without a license in connection with the incident. At a hearing the following day, V.I. Superior Court Judge Brenda J. Hollar upheld the charges against Codrington, who posted 10 percent of his $21,000 bail and was released into the custody of his mother, Deborah Matthew.
Some tourists who witnessed the shooting reached out to Canfield, whose name appeared in published reports. They asked him to relay their condolences to Aguilar's family and said they stand ready to assist in the investigation, Canfield said. The tourists told him they have been contacted by both the V.I. Police Department and federal authorities.
To date, police have filed no murder charges and decline to comment because the case remains under investigation. Codrington, who must report daily to a probation officer and has been directed to seek "gainful employment," according to court documents, is slated for arraignment at 9 a.m. Nov. 8.
Aguilar will be buried at sea later this week.
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