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1-closeIn a country where sailing is an inherent part of the culture, and boat racing is considered the national sport, it makes sense to nurture that spirit among the island’s youth. That was the thought behind the founding of the Anguilla Youth Sailing Club (AYSC) by a dedicated group of sailing enthusiasts, back in 2003.

The founders had one simple mission: to teach sailing to the youth on Anguilla. They recognized that it would provide youngsters with a wholesome activity, strengthening character and providing experienced crew for the unique Anguillian racing boats.

As Donald Curtis, president of the governing Anguilla Sailing Association sees it, “The kids get to learn a skill they can use for the rest of their lives, because you can always go sailing somewhere. They also learn responsibility.”

To fund the club startup at Sandy Ground, the founders organized the first Anguilla Regatta, now a regular fixture on the island’s calendar. In due course the AYSC, a registered non-profit, raised sufficient funds to purchase eight Optimist dinghies and recruit a paid instructor, a role currently held by Antiguan Annette Hibbert.

Originally a qualified physical therapist, she literally ‘jumped ship’ to train as crew, and later as a sailing instructor. “I loved the regattas, we had Antigua Race Week…and I was fascinated to see the boats and the people running across the deck and I thought ‘I’d love to do that.’”

Annette learned quickly, got her license and was soon captaining sailing trips. “I got into island hopping, taking guests from one island to the next, and I loved it,” she says. Her passion for sailing led to her qualifying as an instructor with the American Sailing Association. From 2011 she worked in Long Island, NY for the summer season and in Antigua in the winter. She was a sailing coach on St. Maarten before relocating to Anguilla in 2014 as the full-time instructor for the AYSC.

“THE KIDS LEARN A SKILL THEY CAN USE FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES, BECAUSE YOU CAN ALWAYS GO SAILING SOMEWHERE.”
Donald Curtis

Annette runs afternoon classes during the school year, weekend sessions and a summer camp. Although there is a fee, many local children are assisted with scholarships. The AYSC now has a modest fleet of boats including 14 Optimists, four 420s (twoman boats) and 4 Lasers (single-handed dinghies). Students are 6-17 years old, spread across four skill levels. Donald explains, “Eventually they get on to a racing team and we then send kids away for various regattas around the region.”

The rewards for Annette’s dedication are self-evident.

“These kids are passionate about sailing and that’s what I love and enjoy about it,” Annette says. “They love to compete against themselves…they want to travel and compete internationally.”

“THE KIDS ARE PASSIONATE ABOUT SAILING… THEY WANT TO COMPETE INTERNATIONALLY… EVENTUALLY WE WILL SEE THAT.”
Annette Hibbert

Past competitions include the 2014 Heineken Regatta in St. Maarten, using a loaned 82-year-old boat. Annette recalls, “We had eight kids participating over three days. They are looking forward to the next regatta, but we need to find a better boat to compete against the new ones.”

As always, funding is a big part of keeping the ASA afloat. Fundraisers include the annual regatta and a dinner at Strawhat Restaurant owned by AYSC founder, Peter Parles. Fellow founder Laurie Gumbs wants to see sailing as part of the educational curriculum, and he envisages more girls taking up sailing. “They say women make better sailors because they pay better attention,” he says with a laugh.

Annette’s ambition for her young charges is clear. “They will reach far as long as they have the support of parents and sponsors. I think eventually we will see an Anguilla flag in world competition.

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