Volunteers are the lifeblood and often the unsung heroes behind so many nautical events in the Caribbean, such as sailing regattas, fishing tournaments and charter yacht shows. Yet long hours and hard work come with a definite upside, and it’s these positive aspects that keep many volunteers coming back and entices new volunteers to come aboard to lend their time and talents.
“I was first prompted to volunteer at Antigua Sailing Week (ASW) when I was in high school and entered the postcard competition organizers ran each year. It sparked my imagination to go see what all the excitement was about,” says Heather James, who since 2013 co-manages the committee desk with fellow volunteer Arlene Lake, a multi-faceted job that covers everything from regatta registration and payment to updating results and manning the prize giving.
Puerto Rico’s Steve Sanchez was recruited to run radio operations at Club Nautico de San Juan’s International Billfish Tournament (IBT) over 30 years ago, by then tournament Chairman Henry Rexach. Sanchez, a licensed Ham radio operator, has ever since taken all radio calls by crews of fish hook-ups, catches and releases and exact times of each.
“We set up all of our equipment in the Red Room at Club Nautico by 6am each day where we can look out the window and see all the boats in the marina. It can be 12- to 14-hour days with 50 to 60 calls a day, often with two to three calls at the same time. Yet my assistant and I are in control of the whole thing. Winning or losing for a team can all come down to us getting all the information down correctly,” says Sanchez.
A ‘green’ or environmental interest is what led Jane Bakewell to volunteer at the BVI Charter Yacht Society’s annual Charter Yacht Show starting in 2009. Bakewell’s jobs have ranged from the usual to the amusingly unusual.
“I have assisted in multiple areas. One is designing the layout of the first night with the numerous vendors. I am there to ensure the vendors set up their stalls in the correct location, have what they need, and answer any questions,” says Bakewell. “Janet (Oliver, CYS executive director) and I also used to dress up like Immigration officers when the theme of the Yacht Hop was ‘Travel the Nations’. Imagine asking the Governor to present his ‘passport’ or else we would have to deny him access to the yacht he was visiting? That was a new experience!”
All volunteers agree that the people part of an event is what makes it most rewarding.
“I think the best part about volunteering is meeting new people and the comradery that the volunteers share, particularly for me and our team at the committee desk. It was my first time and I felt welcomed. By the middle of the week, I was even familiar with some of the sailors,” says ASW’s Lake.
What recommendations would these volunteers offer to those who would like to help?
“You have to love what you do, be committed and always realize there is space to learn,” recommends the IBT’s Sanchez.
Be prepared to make new friends and new contacts, adds the CSY show’s Bakewell. “Networking opportunities abound. Be flexible in the midst of crisis. There is always a creative solution to a problem.”
It’s a great experience, says ASW’s James. “Something to add to your resume.”
Finally, says ASW’s Lake, “I would tell anyone who wants to volunteer to give it their all. It is a privilege to help in an event of this caliber. Don’t do it for exposure, do it for experience and the satisfaction of knowing that you were involved. We as ASW volunteers, have the opportunity to make the country’s race week better, put a smile on someone’s face and get feedback from someone to make another day even better than the one before.”