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School’s Out: Summer Sailing Camps in the Caribbean

 

A trip to summer sailing camps takes on a whole new tack when it’s in the Caribbean. Each summer, several adventure operators host boat-based programs for young people on islands spanning from Tortola to the Tobago Cays and beyond.

Jason Buchheim, founding program director of Tarpon Springs, Florida-based Odyssey Expeditions, which operates camps in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), gives a glimpse of what a camp like this is all about. “Students get hands-on, fully interactive, real world experience scuba diving, sailing, hiking, and exploring adventure, while getting to live and work together amongst their peers in a supportive atmosphere.”

There’s more to these camps than just the physical activity and watersports side. For example, Mike Meighan, director of the Sarasota, Florida-headquartered Global Expeditions Group, which runs ActionQuest in the BVI and Leeward Islands, says, “Self-esteem and personal growth occurs naturally in such an uncontrived environment. We take it a step further, adding specific times within the curriculum to challenge students to think outside of their ‘box’ about concepts such as responsibility, integrity, goals and aspirations and the tools that they might need to take them from where they are as kids to where they want to be as adults. The experience can be profound.”

 

Youngsters at Sail Caribbean learn the ropes
Youngsters at Sail Caribbean learn the ropes

How can parents tell at what age their child is ready for this kind of camp? Middle school is the perfect time for students to begin exploring the world, answers Ladye Jane Vickers, marketing coordinator at Raleigh, NC-based Broadreach, Inc., which runs camps that operate through the Windward and Leeward Islands. “It’s the next step beyond summer camp, and gives students the chance to begin developing more independence, global awareness and leadership skills at a formative time in their lives.”

Maturity and personal interests are the most important factors when choosing a camp, adds Mike Liese, founder and director of Northport, New York-headquartered, Sail Caribbean, which celebrates 30 years offering camps in the BVI. “We accept students from 11 to 22-years-old and have designed some adventures for specific age groups and areas of focus. Examples are our cultural exchange Tango trip for 11 to 13-year-olds, where campers work with other kids from Tortola’s Youth Empowerment Project on environmental initiatives, and our Echo leadership program for college students, where participants plan and navigate their own voyages aboard a 50ft monohull sailboat learning skills such as coastal and offshore navigation, passage-making, anchoring/docking, boat systems, and safety at sea in the process.”

Blowing bubbles with Odyssey Expeditions
Blowing bubbles with Odyssey Expeditions

How can parent’s best prepare their kids for camp? Sail Caribbean’s Liese answers, “It’s important that campers like being in and on the water and that they know how to swim.”

Since teen campers are part of the ‘crew in training’ and take part in all aspects of running the vessel including helmsman, anchoring, raising the sails and cooking/cleaning, says Odyssey’s Buchheim, “they grow up in many ways on a voyage but it doesn’t hurt if campers have done some chores in life beforehand.”

Finally, adds Broadreach’s Vickers, “Encourage your child to be open to new experiences and to try things that may be out of their comfort zones. They’ll grow, learn, make memories and have the best time of their life in the process!

Costs of camps such as this range from around $3,000 for 14-days to over $5,000 per camper for 21-days.

EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES AT CARIBBEAN SUMMER CAMPS:
A pool of marine-related talent combined with the slow months of summer’s off-tourist season offer an opportunity for Caribbean residents to work for adventure operators offering marine-based summer camps for kids.

For example, Odyssey Expeditions work with some of the Moorings charter captains to staff its vessels, says Buchheim. “Qualified BVI residents with PADI SCUBA instructor qualifications are welcome to work as on-board counselor/instructor. We have sponsored multiple local students to earn professional credentials and work with us.”

This is definitely a coveted job considering operators like ActionQuest receive about 100 staff applications each year. “Our staff need to hold the appropriate professional licensure such as being a commercially endorsed captain (USCG or MCA) a professional PADI scuba instructor and/or an Emergency Medical Technician,” says Meighan.

Sail Caribbean’s Liese adds, “We are always looking for US Sailing or ASA Basic Keelboat Instructors and persons with Marine Biology backgrounds.”

Beyond this, says Broadreach’s Vickers, “It’s important that our instructors have a deep understanding of group dynamics and teamwork, a firm grasp of safety procedures and a passion for what they do that’s contagious.”

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