The Caribbean boasts all the components for some of the best sailing in the world: ever-blowing tradewinds, water, water everywhere and boats of all types. Yet, on many islands, younger generations have moved away from seafaring trades. This has led to a lack of knowledge, especially on the sailing front, on how to make the most of these ‘backyard’ resources both recreationally and vocationally, in careers such as day sail captains, charter skippers, and professional racers. A pilot program held this summer on five Caribbean islands sought to reverse this trend by providing professional coaching to instruct island youth on the basics of sailing, and older teens and twenty-somethings the skills to coach even more youth in the future.
“I went to the Grenadines earlier this year on a delivery and I met kids who wanted to sail, but didn’t have any clue how to rig or sail some of the dinghies that were available,” explains Tyler Rice, who was born and grew up sailing on St. Thomas, competitively sailed for and graduated from Brown University in 2014, coached the champion Antilles School High School Sailing team, and now operates Bow Sailing Schools. “It was then, with my sailing background, that I was inspired to work with pre-existing youth programs, where kids were ripe to learn more, and provide the coaching framework and template, everything they needed to succeed at sailing.”
Rice isn’t a one man show. Indeed, this summer’s pilot program is very much of a collaborative effort between multiple individuals and organizations. For example, in the British Virgin Islands, Rice conducted week-long coaching sessions in early to mid-July with young people on Jost Van Dyke and Virgin Gorda, two islands where there is limited formal junior sailing instruction.
“Tyler has a passion for the modern sailing industry and passing that information on to youth,” says Susan Zaluski, organizer of the Jost Van Dyke Preservation Society’s marine summer camp, first spearheaded in 2010 by famous calypsonian and namesake bar owner, Foxy Callwood. “This summer, he brought Optimist, Sunfish and Laser dinghy sailing into our program, which is is fundamental for students to learn sailing basics before moving on to the larger boat Endeavour II (32ft modern-built traditional Tortola sloop). In addition, we also ran a short pilot course in Virgin Gorda in partnership with the Virgin Gorda Fishermen’s association. The Bitter End Yacht Club provided the camp venue and use of boats, Hobie Cats and Hobie Waves. Endeavour II provided transport and lodging for summer program instructors in Virgin Gorda.”
The JVD Preservation Society and Bow Sailing, says Zaluski, hope to hold a pilot program in Anegada later this year to focus the program on ‘sister islands’ which have smaller populations, fewer resources, but are also more reliant on the BVI’s sailing industry.
Rice is taking his Bow Sailing School coaching skills to the Grenadine Islands of Union, Mayreau and St. Vincent in late July and early August. Here, host sites are an informal Sunday sailing program venue in Mayreau; Happykite, a kite-surfing school on Union Island, and Blue Lagoon Marina on St. Vincent, where there are Optimist, BICs and a Laser. Like in the BVI, he will coach younger kids in the morning and teach older kids in the afternoon. It’s Bow Sailing School’s sustainable two-tier approach. The curriculum includes teaching basic concepts like wind direction, sail trim and points of sail as well as coaching instruction for older youth.
“It’s easy to be mediocre, but if we can teach kids how to sail the correct way from the start, they will have a life skill and potentially a lifelong vocation,” says Kelly Glass, businessman and founder of Karib Cable, who owns the Blue Lagoon Hotel & Marina, Bequia Plantation Hotel and Clarke’s Court Bay Marina in Grenada. “This is especially important for the Grenadines. We are 32 islands in 33 square miles and are, charter-wise, the BVI of the Southern Caribbean. Now that St. Vincent has its new international airport, there’s a great opportunity to grow the charter industry and with it associated industries like yacht repair. There’s a real potential to grow the yachting industry here.”
Going forward, Bow Sailing School’s Rice plans to continue to seek out youth programs already in place throughout the Caribbean that have or can access boats and are ripe and ready for professional instruction and coaching for its young participants.