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Remembering Malcolm Maidwell

Malcolm Maidwell, who passed away at his home in St. Maarten on May 7 2011 aged 73 after a long battle against cancer, will be best remembered by a younger generation for his immense contribution to sports in the early 1980s on a still under developed island.

But he will be equally remembered by an older generation for his earlier career as a sailor, charter boat skipper, and boat builder.

As the driving force behind a variety of sports and forming of clubs and associations, he converted many a sedentary soul into a weekend warrior with infectious enthusiasm and persuasive charm. His influence left a lasting legacy that was recognised with a decoration by Queen Beatrix of Holland in 2005.

Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, as an only child to a builder father and housewife mother, Malcolm had various jobs but was never entirely satisfied. Learning about building, carpentry, and house design from his father, however, would stand him in good stead later. He also learnt to sail from an early age becoming an accomplished dinghy sailor.

Yearning for travel and adventure, and to escape the apartheid situation, he quit his job with Colgate Palmolive in 1963 and at the age of 25 set off from South Africa with a work colleague for an intended round the world voyage on a 25ft sloop called Banshee that they bought together.

Circumnavigation plans changed however and they ended up in Grenada where he met his future wife Liz, a nurse from the UK, then 23 and visiting her parents who lived there. They married a year later in 1964.

Malcolm sold Banshee and bought the 42ft sloop Vagabond on which he started week-long charters from St. Vincent to Grenada or ten-day charters from Martinique to Grenada. At the time Malcolm and Liz were running the first charter boat business in Grenada. A later purchase of the 70ft sloop Amica did not work out as well, Malcolm preferring the intimacy of smaller boats for charters, and it was subsequently sold.
During this time he became firm friends with the late Peter Spronk, a Dutch boat designer of repute who also ran charters. Spronk wanted to build catamarans in St. Maarten and in 1971 he started a boat building business called Lanseair, with Malcolm as equal partner. They set up their first yard on the beach in Simpson Bay.

St. Maarten soon became a Mecca for boat building and the reputable Spronk stable produced a string of thoroughbred catamarans – around 30 by some estimates – for various owners, that have stood the test of time.

The first catamarans built in Simpson Bay were Bluebeard and Scharlaken Rackham. The yard later moved to Cole Bay where Maho, the giant 75ft Palu, the schooner-rigged El Tigre, Falcon, Pink Panther, Shadowfax, Tiamia, Princess Soya, Egg Nog, Bits and Pieces, and more, were all produced.

Palu was the largest catamaran in the world at the time. It was leased by French sailor Marc Pajot who sailed it singlehandedly from Martinique to La Rochelle, France, as a qualifier for the Route de Rhum.

Working with Peter, Malcolm and Dougie Brooks in the construction yard was Grenadian carpenter Lewis St. Bernard, now 69, who crewed on Spronk's own Blue Crane, and Frank Boekhout, then a teacher in Philipsburg, who assisted in building the first two cats from 1971-1972.

"We all worked well together as one team, no matter what our backgrounds were," remembers Lewis. "There were never misunderstandings and nobody got mad. Just some teasing if someone made a booboo. Every day after work Malcolm would run all the way up to White Sands. He always wanted to keep fit."

Added St. Bernard: "It was the most beautiful year of my life. I remember the practical jokes."

Jon Westmoreland, current owner/skipper of the Spronk catamaran Akka, met Malcolm in 1972 and helped out with many of the launchings.

"Malcolm was so talented. He was the finest artisan I'd ever met," says Westmoreland. "He was a woodworker, carpenter, shipwright, cabinet maker. He could build anything. He and Peter made a dynamic team."

Westmoreland also remembers Malcolm as someone who always went out of his way to help people.

"You don't see much of the Good Samaritan in this day and age. He was special."

Malcolm was also instrumental in starting the St. Maarten Tradewind Race with Peter Spronk in 1975. The 1,000 mile race through the Caribbean islands was open to all boats and always began with the firing of a canon from Great Bay. The event continued for five years until 1979.

Malcolm is survived by his wife Liz, and four children: Mark, Suzy, Michael, and Sandra.

Robert Luckock is a British journalist and freelance writer residing in St. Maarten since 1984. He is currently The Daily Herald's correspondent for French St. Martin and was one of All at Sea's very first contributors.

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