Seas surrounding the Virgin Islands are one of the territory’s greatest recreational assets. Millions of visitors arrive each year to swim, scuba dive and sail. Now, through the Marine Vocational Program or MVP, a program run under the V.I. Council of the Boy Scouts of America, young islanders have the opportunity to experience these water sports and earn certifications so that they can turn this seaworthy asset into a future career provider.
The MVP was launched back in December 2007 by Jimmy Loveland, director of the USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament (ABMT) or nicknamed the ‘Boy Scout Tournament’ for the event’s chief beneficiary.
“Out of the ABMT’s 36 year commitment to help fund the youth programs offered by the Boy Scouts, came the tournament committee’s desire to create additional learning programs that would provide career opportunities in the Virgin Islands’ marine industry,” says Loveland. “Because of our strong ties to this industry, the committee decided it would be best to operate a Marine Vocational Program (MVP) under the Boy Scouts.”
Scuba diving instruction was first offered and run by St. Thomas Diving Club owner, Andre Webber.
“We had a meeting with the parents and kids and had them sign a learning agreement that focused on attendance, arriving on time and completing the homework. In other words, reinforcing responsibility,” says Webber. “We told them if they could do these things, we would assure they would succeed.”
Succeed they did. Thirty-five 13 to 24-year-old Boy Scouts and Venture Scouts to date have completed the six-week PADI Open Water Diver certification course. Two-thirds of these scouts have gone on to take the PADI Advanced Open Water Diver course, one-third have become Rescue Divers and six are now working on their Divemaster certification. One scout who completed his Rescue Diver training was hired last summer to work as a diver at the Coral World Ocean Park.
In January, a program to teach Cub Scouts how to swim started in partnership with the St. Thomas Swimming Association.
Sailing is the most recent ‘spoke in the wheel’, as Loveland calls all the water sports that make-up the MVP. This is taught by Paul Stoeken, an Olympic windsurfer, owner of Island Sol at the Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas, and U.S. Sailing Association instructor/trainer.
“We started the Scouts off with the U.S. Sailing Association’s Level 1 Small Boat Certification Course aboard Hobie Waves,” says Stoeken. “I was originally going to teach them in an IC-24, but they liked the Waves best because these boats are faster, wetter and they could sail them by themselves.”
The ten-hour course spanned four days and taught the five Scouts who participated wind theory, rigging, de-rigging, launching, self-rescue, capsize recovery, basic seamanship, knot tying, points of sail, steering, sail trim, tacking, jibing, and pretty much everything they needed to be able to control a small sailboat safely on their own.
“I really liked the experience of being able to control your own boat,” says Scout Tyriq Isles. “I always wanted to learn to sail and I certainly learned a lot. We had all different types of wind to practice tacks, gybes and all sorts of different skills. Sailing is something I’d like to continue.”
Stoeken says, “From here, Scouts that show a continued interest and the skills required will be able to enrol in our U.S. Sailing Level 1 Small Boat Instructor Course, which will open up opportunities to work as sailing instructors at the many watersports centers in the Virgin Islands. From there, we will have them log hours on the water to work toward getting their USCG Captains License, which would open up even more opportunities for employment in the marine industry.”
Funding for the MVP has come from the profits of offshore sports fishing tournament and from private donations. Future plans call for hiring a Director who will write grants and develop curriculum and the establishment of an endowment fund that will sustain the program long term.
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.