Boating around St. Kitts & Nevis normally brings to mind brightly colored, motorized fishing skiffs; gigantic passenger-laden cruise ships; large, festive touring catamarans; and the occasional personal yacht or cruising sailboat. What you don't see, strangely enough, are many local sailors.
The St. Kitts Yacht Club, in collaboration with Beach Addiction and Spice Mill, not to mention all their sponsors and volunteers, are hoping to change that by providing sailing lessons for kids every single Sunday afternoon (weather permitting).
Kids aged 5 to 15 get to learn how to sail in International Optimist dinghies. Thanks to several generous sponsors, including the International Optimists Dinghy Association (IODA), 15 of these junior sailing boats are available to aid in their efforts. An Optimist is virtually impossible to flip (even in winds up to 30 knots!), is sailed in over 120 countries, and was used to launch the careers of every U.S. sailor (both skipper and crew) in the 2012 Olympics. Do we have a budding Olympian in our midst?
Meet Nick Dupre, the man behind the mission. Nick was born and raised on St. Kitts and has always had an interest in sustainability, marine causes, and youth empowerment. He learned to dive in 2007, earned a Masters Degree in Design Engineering in the UK in 2010, obtained his Small Commercial Vessels Captains License, and has learned to monitor reefs in St. Kitts as part of a GEF reef monitoring project. If that's not enough, he's an IKO Kitesurf Instructor and trained Flyboarding Instructor, which he puts to good use in his watersports' business, Beach Addiction.
When Nick's not out diving, paragliding, surfing, flyboarding, kiteboarding, paddleboarding, and engineering, he's volunteering his time to teach kids how to sail. The hope is to not just teach kids a new hobby, but to teach environmental conservation and to possibly open up future employment opportunities to the young participants as well.
As we sailors know, boating is not all play. There is definitely a bit of work involved.
I have to admit that the first hour, which involved keeping the kids engaged so they could get the boats rigged and into the water, was a bit like watching someone herd cats. Luckily, Nick is a patient man, as were his parent helpers, and his partner, Alex.
It's all worth it though because the kids learn independent hands-on sailing, sailing theory, water safety and seamanship, and play water games connected to sailing and sea safety. The goal is to have half newbies and half intermediate (usually about 6 of each) at each session so they can teach each other. While I was there, I watched a budding female captain expertly tying a knot like she could do it in her sleep. Once out on the water, some went around buoys, tacking like truly competent mini-sailors - whichI suppose they are!
Yep. Just like "real" sailing. You have so much fun, you forget about the work part for awhile.
If you'd like to volunteer, they could always use a helping hand, whether you know how to sail or not. If you'd like to sign up your child (from age 5 to 15), just call (869) 765-4246. It's EC$50 (about US$18) for the afternoon, every Sunday from 1-4pm at Spice Mill (on Cockleshell Bay). Anyone is welcome, so even if you're just here on vacation and want to give your kids a unique experience, here's your chance. If you think you'll have your child in multiple classes, they'd prefer you sign up for a month so they have a better idea of how many to expect each week (plus if you've paid ahead of time, you're less likely to back out on a day you're feeling lazy). If there's bad weather or you really can't come, the $ will simply roll over to the next session.
They do have a little funding to sponsor a kid or two who can't afford the $50EC per week, but surprisingly, they've found little interest. Nick has begun reaching out to the local schools to see if there are any wanna-be yachties who want to sail but just don't know about the program. Hopefully in a few years we'll see a bunch of their graduates racing off-shore, organizing regattas, or preparing for careers in the marine field.