Art competitions, beach clean-ups and behind-the-scene tours are a few of the ways Caribbean regatta organizers are reaching out and teaching island school children about the sport of competitive sailing. The benefit? A better understanding by the students of how international sailing events affect their community as well as an opportunity for the students to join in the sailing fun!
The school art competition was conceived the first year Antigua’s Sailing Week (ASW) took place in 1968, explains event director, Alison Sly-Adams. “Right from the beginning there was a clear understanding that ASW needed to involve the whole community and not just those lucky enough to participate on the water.”
Desiree Bos, St. Maarten Heineken Regatta (SMHR) intern, who heads up community events, agrees and adds, “Our Regatta Art Competition is a fun way for children to become acquainted with sailing and the regatta itself. In particular, we want children from a young age to be aware of what the regatta contributes to the island, so they will understand the impact and support the event in the future.”
Both the Antigua and St. Maarten regatta art competitions reach a broad age range of students. ASW’s contest, which is sponsored by LIAT, is open to students from ages five to 18. Around 200 entries are received annually. Last year, primary school student Tahron Peters won with his colorful painting of sailboats with spinnakers set. Peters’ artwork was used to create the signboard welcoming sailors to English Harbour in 2014.
Artwork is judged in five different age groupings in St. Maarten. “For every age group, we have two or three assignments,” Bos explains. “The assignments vary from drawings and paintings to building something. This year we’ve implemented a ‘talent assignment’ because we think art includes expression. These assignments are put in an information package which is emailed and personally delivered to the schools. We see more schools and children participating every year.”
The BVI Spring Regatta and Sailing Festival (BVISR) and SMHR have participated in Sailors for the Sea’s Clean Regatta programs for five and six years, respectively. Best practices that have earned the regattas this designation include keeping the event site trash free and reducing and eliminating the use of disposable plastic bottles.
The ‘Green Rangers’ have been a much appreciated fixture in the BVISR Village for many years. “The 14 and 15-year-old students work hard to keep the village tidy,” explains Judy Petz, BVISR regatta director. “In turn, they receive class credit and the BVI Spring Regatta also makes a contribution to their school.”
The SMHR has made it easy for island students to earn their required community service hours by inviting them to participate in an annual Clean Up at Kim Sha Beach, the regatta’s main venue.
“This year we had to make the truck come back twice to get rid of the garbage,” Bos explains. “This event enables us to get the students aware of the environment as well as to promote a clean regatta. The new feature this year is that we involved the LAB sports academy, so the children had the opportunity to do some sporting activities after the clean up. Even drinks and snacks were sponsored by local companies!”
Over 100 BVI students received re-usable water bottles last year after they toured the BVISR host venue at Nanny Cay Marina. The give-away served to educate students about the environmentally-friendly nature of the regatta. For the tour, Miles Sutherland-Pilch, general manager of Nanny Cay, explained what it takes to prepare for and host an international regatta; Geoff Brooks, curator of the Virgin Islands Maritime Museum, showed the students one of the historic Tortola sloops, and the crew on the USA’s Tom Mullen’s J/120 Shamrock, invited the kids to come aboard to see the workings of a modern race boat.
There are other even more creative ways students and regatta organizers have worked together. For example, explains Petz, “The last three years in a row five or six students have contacted us for information because they are doing a project on the regatta. Projects have included business plans and the history of sailing in the territory. In addition, a BVI student currently studying in the UK is writing her dissertation for a degree in event management about how the Spring Regatta impacts the BVI both socially and economically. That’s something that I’m looking forward to reading.”
Overall interest in sailing among the local youth has increased as a result of these regatta-school partnerships, says Bos. “Participation in the St. Maarten Yacht Club Sailing School has grown over the past five years from 35 children to 60. In addition, students from Milton Peters College are racing with the St. Maarten Sailing School. The students must volunteer as part of these training programs. This means that they will help us with preparations for the regatta, like getting the race equipment ready. Students from both these programs will have the fun of racing in this year’s St. Maarten Heineken Regatta.”