It takes a core of talented and dedicated volunteers for small islands to put on big international regattas – and to do it well.
“If you live in St. Maarten, you’re automatically a volunteer,” says Titia Reijntjes, who has intermittently lived on the island and now travels from Holland each year to assist at the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta.
For Shep Barrows, who coordinates the mark boats at the International Rolex Regatta in St. Thomas, a chance to give back got him volunteering.
“The St. Thomas Yacht Club (STYC) has always been good about promoting junior sailing,” says Barrows, who has two sailor sons. “When I stopped sailing myself in 1998, I started running the mark boats.”
Josephine ‘Jo’ Bowker, has worked the Committee Desk at Antigua Sailing Week for more than 20 years. She started volunteering when her husband would race as a way that she could feel a part of the event.
“When the lady who ran the desk moved away, I was invited to take over,” says Bowker. “The rest, as they say, is history.”
There are many ways to volunteer at a regatta. Barrows and Bowker have stuck with the same jobs, however Reijntjes has lent her skills in a couple of different capacities.
“I started doing steering committee work,” Reijntjes says. “Then, my brother started running the water taxi service. I worked with him for a couple of years as one of the drivers. When he moved to Curacao I took it over, organizing everything and coordinating all the volunteers. It took about 45 volunteers between the drivers and helpers. It’s a tough job. You get maybe two to three hours sleep each night from Wednesday to Sunday afternoon. And, you don’t see any of the racing at all.”
Last year, drawing on her experience working in television in Holland, Reijntjes coordinated the media, from press accreditations to getting all the correspondents out on boats.
This year, she says, “I’ll be coordinating the start boat and my boyfriend, Goran, will volunteer as the captain.”
Like Reijntjes’ water taxi experience, Barrows find he needs to put together a small army of volunteers – some 50 he estimates.
In addition to just the mark boats, Barrows job has expanded to coordinating all but the racing boats. “That includes the VIP boats, the medical boat staffed by a nurse, two photography boats and judges’ boats in addition to the mark boats,” he explains. One challenge is getting the boats themselves.
“Owners are reluctant to let someone else drive their boat,” says Barrows. “But, we have several very capable repeat volunteers each year, both to donate boats and run them.” Barrows provides a training session for those new volunteers who want to help crew on the mark boats.
“We spend a day before the regatta going out and practicing setting marks,” he says.
Bowker’s job is shore-based, but no less strategic in its coordination. She explains, “I have two or three core volunteers who help set up the desk starting two weeks before the regatta. This means liaising with the main ASW office in St Johns, ensuring that phone lines and internet are set up, that we have radios and cell phones, and that the computers, printers, photocopiers and stationery are all in place. Our committee desk is a container (like St Maarten), that’s laid up from year to year so there’s always a lot of cleaning and checking of wiring systems to make sure the electricity works.”
Bowker’s job also entails organizing registration and, during the event, making sure the results and official boards are loaded, moved to the race end locations and picked up the following morning to be brought to the next race end location.
“Our core team also drives to each race end location with computers, printers, etc. to set up for the finish,” Bowker says.
This is a lot of work. So, why do volunteers volunteer?
“What I like,” says Reijntjes, “is the thrill of working on a big team. Of everybody working together. It’s nice to be a part of it. And, I get a kick out of how we all come together and it works so well.”
For Barrows, it’s been both fun and instructive working with some great PROs (Principal Race Officers) over the years. “I’ve learned a lot about race management,” he says.
Friends and a feeling of homecoming keep Bowker volunteering. “A joy that many volunteers experience at all regattas is meeting old friends who come back from year to year to race. Many of the competitors in Antigua have been coming for years from Europe, the States and other far flung parts of the world,” she says.
For those thinking about volunteering at a Caribbean regatta, Reijntjes has three words of great advice: “Just do it!”
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.