Everyone has a soft spot for tall ships. For some it’s the romance of the sea, others say it brings out the hidden pirate and poet in them. A tall ship in port will gather admirers, put three of them on a dock and open them to the public and you will see just what an attraction these ships are.
Saint Martin-based Caribbean Sail Training Association (CSTA) have done tremendous work in bringing tall ships to the Caribbean and the sight of the 200ft (65m) sail training vessel Alexander von Humboldt II, the 170ft (56m) Fryderyk Chopin, and the 196ft (62m) Wylde Swan alongside in the port of Marigot during Sail St. Martin Open Ship Day brought out the shellback in everyone.
On a Sunday morning in February, these three magnificent vessels offered on board tours and within 30 minutes of opening 300 people had arrived to visit the ships. By 4pm, closing time, that number had risen to almost 1400 making the 2017 Open Ship Day the liveliest to date.
Following the publics departure, the CSTA held a reception for invited guests and members of the press aboard the Dutch registered Wylde Swan. While other’s focused on the canapes and wine, I went off to look around the ship.
Superb in her upkeep, the Dutch topsail schooner is a testament to hard work. Everything was neat and tidy, with not a spot of rust in sight. This in itself speaks volumes. Although gorgeous to look at, Wylde Swan is very much a working sailing ship that plies the oceans in its many moods, giving trainees hardy enough to sign on the adventure of a lifetime.
Jan Roosens, the force behind the CSTA, is passionate about sail training. With the assistance of his family, Roosens has helped hundreds of young people go to sea.
“For many,” says Roosens,” sail training is simply a great adventure. For others, it’s a life-changing experience that has led to a maritime career, with more than one trainee going on to skipper a superyacht.
Sail training ships require community support if they are to prosper and the St. Martin port of Marigot has set an example that other island ports should want to follow.
During the reception, Fosse Fortuin, Captain of Wylde Swan presented Port Director Albéric Ellis with the Caribbean Sail Training Association Port Award.
The port was cited as ‘being the most friendly host port’ for sail training vessels during the past two seasons.
On accepting the award, Ellis turned to address three key members of his staff: Secretaries Nadia Gumbs-Williams and Suzie Brooks-Calvaire, and statistician Ramon Baray, saying: “This is the team who did all the work today, along with the CSTA members.” He added, “We recognize the importance of these vessels to St. Martin, so it’s always a pleasure to say yes to Jan when they come here.”
The port of Marigot forgo all charges for their services and in lieu request an open day to allow the public – and especially youngsters – to visit the ships.
With such consistent support there is no wonder that this marks the second time the port has received the award.
Seventy-five ships are now within the purview of the Caribbean Sail Training Association.
Volunteers offer their time, and donations help keep the programs running, however, finances are stretched when the association have to pay port fees on other islands or pay for youngsters who would find it impossible to finance their own voyage on a tall ship.
“We are limited, but we are lucky that we [the family] are in the marine business with a few companies, because most of the sponsoring comes from us,” Roosens said.
By midsummer the CSTA will have been based in France for two years and qualify for papers that allow donations to be tax deductible. Hopefully this will act as an incentive.
Next season the CSTA will start a campaign to raise money through tax deductible donations. “This will help us do more and help us put more youngsters on the ships and that’s very important,” Roosens said.