The future viability and vitality of any sport lies with its youth. In 2013, the Caribbean Sailing Association (CSA) made youth sailing development one of its top priorities. “We all know unless we have new youths coming into the sport, we can’t grow it or even sustain it,” says CSA vice president, Alison Sly-Adams. “This is especially so given that the days of people being able to race every regatta, cruise the Caribbean, and dip in and out of their businesses are rarer.”
The CSA has taken a proactive two-fold approach to youth sailing development. First, a sub-committee formed last year headed by Ellen Birrell, a cruiser who spends a lot of time in the Eastern Caribbean and has a real passion for assisting small clubs to start programs. Birrell’s co-committee members are the BVI’s Chris Haycraft and Antigua’s Magnus Brun. Secondly, the CSA has enlisted the support of ISAF, through its Emerging Nations Program, to assist in both fact-gathering and educational events. It’s really amazing what these two CSA-inspired groups have accomplished so far.
“Our first goal is to heighten awareness and communication between existing clubs and events utilizing the CSA website,” says Birrell. “A longer term goal is the proliferation of new clubs. We’d like to see them dotting the coastline from Trinidad to Puerto Rico.”
The U.S. and British Virgin Islands, for example, boast a myriad of accomplished youth sailors. This stems from well-established yacht clubs and sailing programs with a majority of sailors on modern yachts. However, as Birrell has observed, while there are still some ex-pats racing modern yachts in the eastern and southern Caribbean, the local population on these islands are more drawn to sailing and racing native work boats. ISAF research bears this out.
The predominant equipment used by established junior sailing programs at yacht clubs and sailing clubs in the region are the Optimist and Laser dinghies.
The number of youth participating in regional junior sailing programs isn’t known precisely by ISAF or many of the national sailing federations. This is because of the labor-intensive nature of gathering this type of information and few full-time national federation staff.
“What is known is that the main factors limiting participation are mainly equipment as well as finding trained/certified coaches and/or volunteers to deliver organized sailing activity,” says Dan Jaspers, ISAF’s training and development manager.
Funding is touted as the chief challenge of many sailing programs. However, Birrell says, “Getting individuals to purchase boats for clubs is a sexy quick fix. Keeping instruction and maintenance going is, well, hard and not sexy. Though well-meaning cruisers offering to help during sailing sessions, seems like a good idea, what local children need are to see local instructors following proven instruction methods that help them have fun and feel safe.”
A good example of this is on Grenada, Birrell has observed. Three programs are each managed in a different way. Grenada Marine Junior Sailing is literally sponsored and managed by Grenada Marine. Rees Evans, a local college student who received coaching training through the Tobago & Trinidad Sailing Association (TTSA), is their instructor. Carriacou’s Kirsann Boatswain, who received two years of TTSA training, and Akim Compton run L’Esterre Junior Sailing under the direction of local mom and business woman, Allison Caton, with support from local residents, a sail loft, craftsmen and cruisers. Gouyave Sailing School (GSS) has existed on Grenada’s western coast for decades. It was started and is still funded by Canadian Olympic sailor Terry Neilson. Neilson has taken the innovative approach of producing less expensive, sturdy Opti-like boats called Mosquitos as well as a larger version called a Catfish that accommodate three children per boat. GSS has produced the likes of Kevin Banfield who was school director for years and is now aspiring to become a professional racer.
Beyond learning to sail, the regions junior sailors who want to take the next step into racing will find help in ISAF’s 2015-launched Youth Worlds Championship Emerging Nations Program. The National Sailing Academy in Antigua is one of five continental sites that will host this performance-oriented clinic July 14 to 21.
“Seventeen national sailing federations across the Americas have applied to be part of this clinic,” ISAF’s Jasper says. “Twelve of these are from the Caribbean.”
For more information, visit: http://caribbean-sailing.com/youth/youth-programs
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.