Youth2Adult — Y2A — is a series of articles celebrating sailing’s role in youth development for Caribbean children.
By Ellen Birrell
“We have had fantastic turnaround of our sailing program with new leadership, a rebranding, stellar participation considering our island population size and a pandemic year,” says instructor Mark Theron.
“We changed the name of the club from Nevis Yacht Club to Nevis Aquatic and Sailing Center. This was done to create a sense of inclusion towards the local community in particular as the connotation of ‘yacht club’ implies a whites-only and a membershiporientated place. I personally feel this has made a difference in perception and participation at our events. We were able to remain active during 2020 as the only sport offered operated under government Covid restrictions,” he adds.
With 23 regular sailors each week currently, Nevis Aquatic and Sailing Center’s youth program continues to grow. Eleven adults are also learning to sail. Located on Oualie Beach in the northwestern corner of Nevis, there is a shady spot for practical and theory studies, and a storage yard for boats and equipment. Boats are rolled a very short distance to the shallow bay making it easy and comfortable for the beginning sailors. Just outside of the bay, the Narrows, a channel between the islands of St. Kitts and Nevis, offers consistent Atlantic northeast winds.
“We have a small fleet that we are hoping to build,” says NASC chairperson Danielle Connor. “This consists of seven Optimists, one RS Feva, two Lasers, one Sunfish, and two Hobie Wave catamarans that are used coordinate with our sister club in St. Kitts — the St. Kitts Yacht Club — to share equipment where possible.”
Danielle talks about one of the newer students: “After a spring stuck at home due to the pandemic, this bright-eyed nine-year-old boy came to Summer Camp bouncing with energy. Living in the same village as one of our volunteers, he came along to see what we were all about. Day One included some evaluations to understand each child’s level, confidence and ability. We discovered immediately there were challenges to overcome. Even wearing a lifejacket, he feared floating in the water, let alone jumping off the nearby jetty. After a few days extending extra love, patience and guidance toward him, he showed us how fast attitudes can change and fears can be erased. By Day Three he jumped from the swimming platform. Day Four he got in an Optimist. Day Five he sailed up and down the bay like he had been doing this his whole life.
“The last day of camp ends as a party with barbecue and celebrations. He begged, ‘Please, can we still go sailing?’ His thirst for the sport was obvious. Of course, we let him sail! Now, almost a year later, he is doing amazingly and proving his love for the sport with each class,” Danielle concludes.
Sail & Aquatic Holiday Camps with over 30 children run 13 days in summer; there is also a nine-day Easter Camp. A full curriculum includes sailing classes, swimming lessons, safety and rescue classes, marine biology, marine conservation, snorkeling, kayaks, a catamaran sail and snorkel trip, and sailing aboard a yacht. The aim is to give children a full marine experience. This expanded curriculum has been successful introducing many to the sport of sailing who might otherwise not have gained the experience. Each camp identifies the talented children who then enter the youth sailing program.
Recognizing NSAC’s success, the St. Kitts & Nevis National Olympic Committee is assisting with a small grant to form the first official SKN National Sailing Team. Comprised of eight sailors, they’ll focus on race training. The nation’s two sailing centers, St. Kitts Yacht Club and NASC, will rotate hosting trainings and regattas to build the experience that, as Danielle Connor says, “will get SKN National Sailing Team recognized regionally and beyond as a team to beat!”
Since 2014, Ellen Birrell & Captain Jim Hutchins have hosted 68 six-day High Adventure Scouting USA charters including STEM citizen science turtle counts and benthic surveys for Scouts onboard their S/V Boldly Go.
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