U.S. biographer and historian, David McCullough, was cited as saying, "Real success is finding your lifework in the work that you love." This quote aptly applies to St. Maarten’s Robbie Ferron. Not only has he turned a love for sailing into a prosperous business, but also lent countless volunteer hours towards strengthening the caliber of the sport in the Caribbean.
Born to Dutch parents in Cape Town, South Africa, Ferron says his first yacht club affiliation was with the tiny Imperial Yacht Club. "The club was active on a small ‘vlei’ or pan near Cape Town called Zandvlei. My friend Andrew Rapley, the race officer from St. Maarten is also from that club. We raced all sorts of boats, but at that time there were not yet Optimists and we sailed something called a ‘Dabchick’ which was a scow with main and jib."
After completing his education, Ferron sailed across the Atlantic. He spent some time in Grenada and St. Thomas before he – as he calls it – "got pleasantly stuck on St. Maarten." The year was 1979.
Ferron’s first job on St. Maarten was that of repairing boats. "I quickly became aware of the fact that accessing products, and particularly the right products, was what made projects go well or poorly. There were always lots of persons around who were prepared to do a project, but actually finding the most suitable products usually produced a great deal of shoulder shrugging. I had a rented house opposite Bobby’s Marina and one of the rooms became a shop and then another room became a shop and then the porch became a shop and finally we started a real shop."
Ferron enjoys racing and attends several regattas each year. However, he admits, "I’m really a bum sailor except that I enjoy it immensely. I keep doing it and over the years I have got a little better. Unfortunately, I enjoy the sailing so much that I cannot motivate myself to do some of the things that it takes to win."
He adds, "I tend to sail most anything that is at hand and appreciate any type of boat for its advantages. Recently, while visiting Curacao, I went racing on a Sunfish. That’s a great boat to sail because of its simplicity. I deeply regret that young people, and older ones too, think that your sailing enjoyment goes up with the value of the boat. It may be the inverse."
Ferron has played a key role in the development of the sport through his presidency of the Caribbean Sailing Association. His accomplishments during his tenure, he says, include initiating two conference models – the Race Organizers Conference and Youth Sailing Summit. "Both worked really well," says Ferron.
Also, he continues, "keeping the annual dinghy championships rolling along. All clubs are reminded that this year’s event is in Barbados."
Third, Ferron says, is building up confidence in the CSA (Caribbean Sailing Association) rating. "This is more due to the chief measurers being David de Vries and Jeffrey Chen, but I like to think all measurers worked well as a team and the strategy to build confidence in the rule was realized very substantially. The initiation of ‘regatta measurers’ and the dynamic role played by the many people who have been fulfilling that function like Alfred Koolen and others was another reason the confidence in the rule went up."
As for the future direction of Caribbean sailing, Ferron says, "There are lots of bright spots in Caribbean sailing with some great youth programs, great regattas and lots of developments of all kinds. Inter-island co-operation does not look very exciting however. Territories expect things to happen and there is little input to be able to make anything happen. CSA is a great forum and has substantial potential as a forum but as direct executor of activities it is poor. The Rule has incredible momentum has achieved a place in history that requires us only to stick to the same principle that we have in the past to allow us to continue to be successful."