Hotshot Caribbean sailors and visitors alike thrill to sail in a major event like the International Rolex Regatta. For a group of high school students, all enrolled in the Introduction to the Maritime Industry course at the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School on St. Thomas, it was the field trip of a lifetime.
Instructor and avid sailor Stan Lorbach tells of the serendipitous entry into Rolex. “We keep our 30-foot training boat, Winds Glory, at American Yacht Harbor. When the marina was re-arranging slip space to accommodate boats arriving for Rolex, they couldn’t find a slip to move our boat to that had a deep enough draft. Bill Canfield at the St. Thomas Yacht Club offered to let us put the boat on a mooring at the Club.”
Each day, morning and afternoon, the students would walk through the yacht club en route to their floating classroom. A group of men who regularly socialize at the club struck up a conversation with Lorbach and the students one day and the talk ended in the men’s offer to sponsor the class’s entry fee into Rolex. After the club paid for Winds Glory to be measured for its required CSA rating certificate, the class was set to sail – almost.
First came some hands on training. “As a group we worked over two weeks to replace all the stanchions and refitted them with new lifelines to make sure the boat was safe to race,” says Lorbach. “The students did virtually all of the work themselves. Then, we got in three practices before the regatta began. Most of the students were new to sailing, let alone racing.”
One student, Jamal Industrious, whose family owns a boatyard specializing in powerboat repair, did have a bit of boating experience and drove Winds Glory upwind, while Lorbach sailed downwind.
“I’d never sailed before, but it was a lot of fun,” says Industrious. “There’s not as much speed in a sailboat as in powerboats, but what I liked about racing in the Rolex was that we got to watch some really pretty boats and it brought our class closer together because we had to work together.”
One of the highlights in many Caribbean regattas is earning a bright red Mount Gay rum cap. These were among the freebies in the “goodie bag” at Rolex.
“I gave a red hat to each of the seniors and had one left over,” says Lorbach. “I told the students the last hat would go to the sailor who showed leadership or perseverance or who demonstrated real determination. In the end, it went to our lone sophomore, Kenrick Brown. He was seasick all the first day, but he was right back out there and ready to go the next.”
The Marine Action Group (MAG) and Virgin Islands Department of Education fund the Introduction to the Maritime Industry course. St. Thomas sailor Paul Davis, of Mag 7 fame, donated Winds Glory to the two-year-old program, and Chris Curreri, a fellow islander and owner of the successful IC-24, Brand New Secondhand, was the course’s first instructor.
“The main goal of the program is to interest local high school students in a marine trade or profession,” says Lorbach. “That could be everything from painting and sail making to training to be crew on the charter yachts.”
A marine profession is exactly why Industrious joined the class. “I plan to enter the U.S. Coast Guard,” he says. The class, which has a pre-requisite of basic swimming, CPR and first-aid, teaches skills from boat handling and navigation to boat repairs.
In the future, Lorbach plans to get a dinghy-building project underway. “By doing this,” he says, “I think we can develop whole new skill sets, increase the class size and hopefully expand the program to other schools in the territory.”