Feb 2, 2022
My husband, Nick, and I planned our trip to Sint Maarten back in July hoping that everyone would be good and get vaccinated so we could get this pandemic over with. In September, we nearly pulled the plug, but as time went on, cases on the Caribbean island dropped to about three a week. We packed our snorkels and bathing suits and headed off in late November, just before Omicron decided to invade Canada.
For Nick especially, no vacation is a good vacation unless sailing is involved, preferably on a Laser. Although newspapers would refer to us as “elderly”, we prefer to use the Laser (now ILCA) designation for our age group as Great Grand Masters. Pre-hurricane Irma, when in Sint Maarten, we had rented Lasers at a little outfit on the beach at Simpson Bay, but those boats were gone with the wind, as they say. Everywhere we tried to rent ILCAs, we were out of luck, until we stumbled upon the Sint Maarten Yacht Club.
Now, before you think hoity-toity, the SMYC is basically an outdoor bar with a roof, and parking space for about six vehicles. It does, however, boast the best view of superyachts entering the Simpson Bay Harbour. You may have seen some of the You-tube videos of superyachts taking out the manned station, or clobbering a dock. Dennis Connor donated a mast from Stars and Stipes which serves as a leaning rail at the club, overlooking the SMYC Junior Club boats, which, of course, include the boats formerly known as Lasers.
So we looked into it. Could we rent these boats? Indeed. For $100 US you can get a temporary family membership, which, in addition to giving you a discount at the bar, entitles you to the use of the sailing school’s boats for a modest fee. The best part is that the membership fees support the junior program, which, we discovered, is well worth supporting.
Rules? What rules?
As we were going to join the club, I decided it would be fun to volunteer to do a little rules seminar for their juniors. The head instructor, Sam, thought Saturday morning would be perfect, as there was a regatta that afternoon, and there would be kids there from the French sailing school as well. The students ranged in age from about 8 to about 14, and although there were only about four or five who were actually interested in rules, it was a genuinely interesting experience for us to learn about the program.
Tourism and boats are the two main industries in St. Martin. Interestingly, there has never been a focus on teaching the local students how to swim, or sail, or anything about boats and their maintenance. Recently, however, the government has realized that learning about the marine industry is an investment in the future. Local students come during school hours, and learn how to swim and sail at the SMYC.
We noticed that all of the junior sailing school boats were sponsored by various individuals or companies. The program relies on the generosity of local businesses. In meeting some of the young students, we were impressed with how keen to learn they were, and how comfortable they had become around the boats. They had big smiles and most assuredly were having fun. We also noticed that the sails were old, and we have vowed to donate some of our sails next year.
We did “rent” the Lasers for $10 per boat for five hours through the junior program, and we had a blast sailing through the Simpson Bay Harbour and looking at all of the very large boats. It was fun to belong to another club, and to watch from our accommodations as Sam taught the local students out sailing in Pelican Bay.
Recently, SMYC was given a large grant by the World Trust Fund which has allowed them to purchase more boats, and to increase the number of students in the program. With the acquisition of 11 new boats, they will now be able to offer sailing and swimming lessons to up to 36 students from two local primary schools.
Further information can be found on the club’s website at smyc.com, and if you are headed to SMX, be sure to consider a visit to the SMYC and see if your club’s burgee is hanging up. We found lots from Canada, including our own Ashbridge’s Bay Yacht Club burgee. Plus, supporting the junior program is a great cause.
Wendy Loat is a longtime racer and is a National, Regional and Club Judge. She is this year’s recipient of Ontario Sailing’s Presidents’ Trophy recognizing her outstanding contribution to the development of sailing.