Brian Deher, president of the St. Maarten Marine Trades Association (far right) and Garth Steyn (second right) look on as youngsters from Kidz At Sea cut the ribbon at the opening of their new clubhouse. Photo: OceanMedia
Brian Deher, president of the St. Maarten Marine Trades Association (far right) and Garth Steyn (second right) look on as youngsters from Kidz At Sea cut the ribbon at the opening of their new clubhouse. Photo: OceanMedia

It’s not often that young people give us something to cheer about. You’ve heard it all before, kids today show no respect, they want instant gratification and they had better get it. Often, we, the older generation, give up on them and then do nothing but moan about it. In St. Maarten, a group of far-sighted adults within the marine industry didn’t quit and their dedication to the young people of the island has produced remarkable results. It also got me an invitation to attend the opening of the brand new Kidz At Sea clubhouse.

The marine industry in St. Maarten offers every kind of service needed by yachts of all sizes. Traditionally, that industry is owned, managed and run by ex-pats. Thanks to schemes like ‘Kidz At Sea’ and the ‘Build Your Future’ program, that is about to change.

Run and supported by marine professionals, the aim of Kidz At Sea is to get local school children interested in waterborne activities in the hopes it will lead them to a career in the marine industry. The industry’s commitment is unquestionable as can be seen by the Sint Maarten Shipyard’s decision to make available a valuable area of hard-standing to accommodate the new clubhouse and their donation of construction materials.

Addressing the guests at the opening of the clubhouse, Jeff Boyd, managing director at the St. Maarten Shipyard, said the only way the industry will survive is if we get our local kids involved in it. “This is the only sustainable way for us to keep this industry going, to maintain our position as the yachting capital of the Caribbean. We are ready to hand over the torch.”

Some of the boats built in local schools as part of the Build Your Future program. Photo: OceanMedia

Asked about the decision to put aside commercial space on which to build a clubhouse, Boyd said it was an investment for the future.

Garth Steyn is the owner of the St. Maarten Sailing School and the driving force behind Kidz At Sea, and the Build Your Future program that took boatbuilding into the schools. Steyn was also instrumental in training crews of youngsters and entering them in local sailing events including the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta. The youngsters’ participation in regattas set the local sailing establishment reeling when they began winning races. Steyn sees the need for local youngsters to become involved in the industry, but he hasn’t lost sight of the fun-factor.

“It’s been a lot of hard work but it’s all worthwhile,” Steyn said. Referring to the new clubhouse, he said this is somewhere for the kids to meet up and go sailing, and that’s the most fun part.

Some of the youngsters involved in the boatbuilding and regattas were given the honor of cutting the ribbon, declaring the new clubhouse open. Some of the boats they built were also on display.

Steyn said the whole initiative of the program (boat building) was to try and get the students involved in the marine industry and that could be anything from scuba diving, charter crew, ferry captains, marina management, retail, etc. “If we can get, say, ten out of this group employed in the marine industry, that’s what we want.”

He added that the scheme had been a real eye-opener for the kids who realize not only can they work in the industry; they can make money and have fun at the same time.

Speaking at the ribbon-cutting ceremony Brian Deher, Director of Marina Operations and Planning for IGY St. Maarten and president of the St. Maarten Marine Trades Association, thanked everyone involved and praised the schools that had welcomed the whole initiative and then followed through on it. After praising the teachers and staff, he had a special word for Garth Steyn. “There was a lot of supporting characters through all this but really, Garth; it was his dream from the beginning and his initiative,” he said.

For more information about the Kidz At Sea Foundation, and the Build Your Future program, visit: www.kidz

Gary E. Brown is the Editorial Director of All At Sea Caribbean. He is a presenter on Island 92, 91.9 FM, St. Maarten, and the author of the thriller/sailing adventure Caribbean High. For more information, visit: