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Saint Maarten Sailing School is Bringing Youngsters into Marine Industry

When Bob Dillon sang The Times they are a Changing he could have been warbling to the Caribbean marine industry, especially the island of Dutch St. Maarten. For years, few, if any, local youngsters looked for a career in the island’s marine industry, an industry that plays a huge role in the fledgling country’s economy. That is about to change, and Garth Steyn, owner of the St. Maarten Sailing School, has joined the ranks of those farsighted individuals who are determined to make it happen.

On the island of Antigua, the marine industry draws much of its labor force from within the local community. Antiguans run marine businesses and skipper charter and race boats at international levels. School leavers know the value of a career in the marine industry and that high-paying jobs, for those willing to train, are available.

“All the meetings I’ve sat in with government, they compared St. Maarten to Antigua and Tortola, and they realize now that they are behind in the game,” says Steyn.

Educating and directing the kids towards a career in the marine industry is more important than ever as St. Maarten introduces changes to the labor laws that make it increasingly difficult to bring in marine specialists from abroad.

Looking to the future, the St. Maarten Sailing School put together a proposal which they presented to the island’s labor department. “The different packages range from training qualified crew through bareboat and basic keelboat,” explained Steyn. “We are also doing the Small Commercial Vessel (SCV Code) Boat Master qualification, a new commercial license that is now required on the island. This Code of Practice also covers the construction of the vessel, its safety equipment, its machinery, stability and the correct operation of the vessel, so that safety standards are maintained.

Steyn said he was thrilled by the response of the local youngsters to this new initiative and gave as an example the students of Milton Peters College, 28 of whom, when offered an extra curriculum activity, chose sailing.

This is a big step in the right direction.

“Growing up on Sint Maarten, I have always been fascinated by various marine activities on the island, but like many others I never actually took part,” says student Shervin Frederick. “This was primarily due to the perception of many locals that the marine sector is predominantly for white and/or rich folks.”

Frederick, who is currently busy taking his third course at the sailing school, described how the rise of the mega yacht industry on the island sparked his interest and that after years of hesitating, standing on the outside looking in; he finally took the step and enrolled in a sailing course. “Sailing has given me an insight into another world, a world full of possibilities and opportunity for all,” he said.

Steyn tells of Jose Cannegeiter, a student who, in six weeks, went from never having stepped on a sailboat to being able to coach newer students in all facets of sailing and boat handling. “That for me,” says Steyn, “is a great sense of achievement.”

The St. Maarten Sailing School operates two boats, Little Po, an engineless Dufour 1800 and Moondance, a Catalina 36. Students receive a thorough schooling in the basics of boat-handling on the Dufore before moving on to the larger, more complex Catalina 36. Plans to introduce a larger boat are now in progress.

Local authorities are increasingly aware of the impact the marine industry has on St. Maarten and are beginning to see that there is much more to it than just mega yachts and marinas.

“We need skilled carpenters, painters, deckhands, administrators, dingy drivers,   technicians, and all this is part of the marine industry,” says Steyn. The school would like to offer training in watersports such as kayaking and swimming, and have approached a company of local shipwrights about courses in boat repair, he adds.

For information or to learn about courses offered at the St. Maarten Sailing School, visit: www.stmaartensailingschool.com

Gary E. Brown is the Editorial Director of All At Sea. He is a presenter on Island 92, 91.9 FM, St. Maarten, and the author of the thriller/sailing adventure Caribbean High. For information, visit: garyebrown.net

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