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Tuesday 26th June 2012

Rhonda and Sally with their feet firmly back on the ground!

Get Onboard, held last Saturday at the Antigua Yacht Club, was a resounding success.  Seventy Antiguans and Barbudans descended on the Yacht Club between 11 am and 6 pm to try their hand at sailing.  There was a wide range of boat choices available - for children there was the Optimist, a small, single-handed International Class sailing dinghy; for adults, there were Laser Picos, small entry-level sailing dinghies for one or two people; and for those who preferred a larger boat experience, there was the Digicel Challenger, a 1720 Cork keelboat or, from Ondeck, a 40-foot keel boat.  There was definitely something available for everyone interested to enjoy!

Among the many visiting participants were entire families who came to experience the thrill together onboard the Ondeck yacht with children as young as age 5.  Children with some experience who are already involved in one of the many sailing programmes at Antigua Yacht Club were in and out of the water all day long - on Optimists, kayaks and on stand-up paddle boards.

The initiative was the first one of its kind held at the Antigua Yacht club and sponsored by Antigua Sailing Week.  The clear objective of the day was to encourage Antiguans and Barbudans to experience sailing by partaking in the sport, rather than by simply being spectators or attending the post-race parties.

Antigua Yacht Club and its instructors, headed up by former Antiguan Olympian Karl James, are passionate about teaching as many people as possible to learn to sail. Instructor Shawn 'Turban ' Ambrose was hailed across the water as one of his students paddled past on a stand-up paddle board:  'Hey Turban, guess what, I won the sailing award.  It was worth all your hard work teaching me.'  Turban's delight at his student's reaction clearly pleased him.  Turban has been sailing since he enrolled in the Antigua Yacht Club youth sailing programme when he was 15 years old.  Now at the grand old age of 30 it can clearly be seen that he enjoys seeing people build their confidence and skills under his tutelage.

At the end of the day as the team was packing away the boats, Karl James had one of his famous huge smiles on his face as he said:  'The whole day was worth it for me just to see the reaction of a deaf man who came on board and sailed for the first time in his life'.  And that passion from a man who has sailed practically every day of his life over the past twenty years!

A few hilarious moments were peppered throughout the day, not the least of which was the final trip for the Challenger.  The shore team spent most of the day encouraging Rhonda, a sales associate who works in the industry, to give it a go.  Finally it took two other novices (myself included), former Olympic sailors Karl James and ABMA President Franklyn Braithwaite, and one other crew member to coax her onto the boat. With Karl James at the helm we hit the harbour at full pelt.  Cries of 'you cannot be serious, and Stop' were heard far and wide, but a beaming Rhonda landed safely with an equally big smile of relief on her face at her first sailing experience.  Upon returning to dry land and being asked 'how was that?', Rhonda exploded, 'that was awful'.  Franklyn asserted:  'Rhonda, you mean awesome, it was awesome.'

As for me, after a few circuits of the harbour on a Pico, I think the bug may have bitten.  Aside from the sheer joy of being out in the middle of Falmouth Harbour with my feet dangling in warm Caribbean water, the breeze in my face and every muscle screaming as I tried to get comfortable, only to find it was time to switch sides while holding onto the tiller and quickly pulling the sail back in without realizing I was heading in completely the wrong direction, there was also the joy of learning something new and forgetting entirely about any of the other stresses in life.  I would urge anyone to give it ago just once.  I can't wait until I have qualified to head out into the water on my own.

A teenage girl and her young brother sat at the table after their experience and Elizabeth Jordan, Commodore of Antigua Yacht Club, asked 'How did it go?'.  Their answer 'We loved it'.  Their smiles from ear to ear were the greatest reward to everyone involved.

Article and photo by Alison Sly-Adams.

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