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Pirates Ahoy!

Anyone walking along Anguilla’s Sandy Ground beach during the various school holidays may have a bit of a surprise in the shape of small pirates yelling, ‘Ahoy, shipmates!’ with high pitched gusto whilst brandishing plastic cutlasses.  Looking out into the bay spectators can watch older children being put through their paces in small sailing craft.

Last year, these activities were all part of week-long day camps run by the Anguilla Youth Sailing Club (AYSC), under the auspices of the resident Instructor, William Ferguson.  “For the first time, in addition to the regular camps offered for older children, we are offering the Starfish programme for children aged four to seven.  It is a marine introduction with swimming lessons, a chance to get out in a boat with an instructor and a lot of constructive play.  The idea is to get them on the water, get them used to it and get them comfortable with how the boat works without terrifying anyone.”

The first Starfish, following a programme pioneered by Alex Himmelman at the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club, were Isaac Fleming and twins, Riley and Dylan Tanner, all aged four.  They were a little wide eyed but very excited by the fun and action packed adventures they enjoyed. 

Sam Peabody explained a little of what excited the children so much. “They have learnt basic knot tying, boat safety, the rules of being in a boat and observing the bigger kids, because they are not old enough to sail yet.  Hopefully it will spark an interest in them and as soon as they are six or seven years old they will want to come out here and sail.”

Meanwhile, amongst the more than 50 children taking part in Sailing 1 and 2 during the year were Alessandro Piazzi aged seven, Helena and Alex Clayhills-Henderson aged 11 and 13 respectively, and 11 year old Cody Coburn.  Cody has sailed before, in a short summer programme, but the others were new to the sport.  “We went out sailing quite near the shore,” says Helena. “It was quite hard at first, but really fun.”  

Regardless of age, all the children were excited by talk of pirates!  Most turn up dressed in pirate outfits on Pirates Day. William put it all into perspective.  Grinning he explained, “There is a legend at the Anguilla Youth Sailing Club which tells of the pirates who landed in Road Bay.  Their ships got wrecked over there,” he pointed with a wink to the hurricane wrecks lining the coastline under the cliffs.

“We have hidden bits of map and they get a piece of the legend each day and then the hunt starts.  Somewhere on Sandy Ground beach there’s a treasure chest full of chocolate gold coins that they have got to find.  On the way they have to do things; they spotted the reef in a dinghy but they had to put the dinghy through a boat safety class first, making sure there were paddles, a bailer, a whistle, a flash light in case something should happen, everybody wearing their life jackets and so on.  They learn knots and will do some competitions with knot tying, and then find pieces of the map that way and so, at the end of each week the participating kids get rewarded.  We are also working really hard on sandcastle building!”

The experienced sailors enjoy the challenge of the Summer Camp Programmes, which seek to reinforce and practice skills the youngsters have gained in their regular sessions with the AYSC. Kenny Richardson, aged 13, loves windy conditions, “It is pretty fun with heavy swells,” he says gleefully.

Looking back over last summer’s programmes, William observed, “We had just over 70 different kids through our programmes, with the majority around age 10 to13. In Starfish we have had 18 registrations. The AYSC will be running these programmes again. I would say they have been very successful.”

Of the new Starfish programme, William says, “I think this is a very good programme, offering an activity for children who are often considered too small for anything but babysitting. This is great for the kids as it instils a confidence and familiarity with the sea that is often very hard to accomplish when kids are older.

“My favourite part of the Starfish programmes are the cards and hugs the instructor receives on the last day! The kids always have a great time and are really sad to leave. The kids can’t wait to come back and start Sailing Camp when they are older.”

The Anguilla Youth Sailing Club is committed to teaching children to sail and has a strong scholarship programme enabling all children to learn regardless of income.  For more information contact aysc@sailanguilla.com 

British-born Penny Legg writes for magazines and newspapers in the Caribbean, US and UK and takes photographs to accompany her work. 

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