A rainbow hung over the Simpson Bay Lagoon as the naming ceremony for the Didy 26 race boat, built by high school students from Milton Peters College, got underway at the St. Maarten Shipyard in late February. With just days to go before the start of the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, the omens were good and the attending crowd cheered as 17-year-old Gershwin Busby popped the champagne and named the boat Purple Heart, a nod to the hardwood used in parts of the boat’s construction.
The naming ceremony was the culmination of a year of hard work and thousands of hours of dedication by the students. Working under the watchful eye of a group of committed tutors and members of staff, the boat grew from a pile of wood, epoxy glue and fiberglass matting into a fully-fledged racing machine.
Garth Steyn, founder of the Kidz at Sea program and the man whose idea it was to build the boat took the microphone to tell the story and to thank the numerous local sponsors without whose help the project might have foundered.
Asked how difficult it had been to convince sponsors to back the project, Steyn described how many companies he approached readily agreed to help, in many cases donating fittings and equipment outright instead of supplying them at a discount.
He added that the company he worked for, Aquamania, had generously allowed him to take as much time as he needed to oversee the project and steer it towards fruition.
In the early days of construction there were those who thought the pupils would never pull it off and the boat would never be finished let alone see salt water, but the naysayers fell by the wayside bulldozed out of the way by the enthusiasm of the building team and their mentors.
As building progressed, it fired the imagination of those far removed from the project, and even members of government could not ignore what was going on in the large shed at Milton Peters College.
At the naming ceremony, Silveria Jacobs, Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sports received a huge round of applause when she praised the students and staff on their amazing achievement.
Certainly no other high school in the Caribbean has built a boat of this size or complexity, and one that that will take part in regional regattas.
“Many of those involved still haven’t grasped the enormity of the project and I’ve been speaking to the school in the hopes they will come to really understand what has been achieved and help spread the word,” Steyn said.
Not all those who worked on the boat want to sail it and the team is happily divided into builders and sailors. Although the A team have priority, those involved in previous Kidz at Sea programs will also be invited to sail.
Steyn confirmed that plans are underway for the next boat. “The whole idea of Kidz at Sea is sustainability,” he said. He added that although they still had funding, he was looking to sell the first boat in order to invest in the next, in the knowledge that funding will eventually dry up.
Having mastered woodwork techniques the next build will go a step further and teach the students about wiring, marine plumbing and engine installation.
Paul Miller, Race Director of the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, expressed his admiration for the project. “I think it’s fantastic. It is so important to get kids today involved in the marine trades at an early stage with these very valuable skills,” he said, adding that he admired this project immensely.