Two Antiguan and Barbudan nationals were recognized for their participation in the 2022 Harlingen Tall Ships Races at a ceremony held at the Antigua and Barbuda High Commission on Friday, 29th July. J-Maiah Louisor and T-Janica Thomas, both 21 years old, joined three other young sailors from the United Kingdom and Australia aboard a 55-foot yacht to sail from Harlingen in the Netherlands to Antwerp in Belgium.
The Tall Ships Races 2022 brought together an international fleet of tall and small ships which visited several European ports as they sailed across the North Sea. A tall ship is a large, traditionally rigged sailing vessel which are among the biggest rigged ships in the world at over 25 feet in length. The young Antiguan sailors were part of a crew of nine people including two young police cadets from the Merseyside Police Cadets UK in the United Kingdom – Sophia Brumskill and John Gregson – and one trainee from Australia, Georgia Lennard, who sailed aboard a 55-foot yacht the Cruise-in-Company leg of the races.
The idea to have these young people participate in the Tall Ships event was the brainchild of sailing enthusiasts who wanted to contribute to the development of sailing in the country. Charlotte Hooijdonk, Billy Gernertt and Daniel Holdsworth worked collectively to bring the idea to fruition. Charlotte, together with her husband Billy, currently run the West Indies Sail Heritage Foundation in Antigua and Barbuda. It provides a sail training programme for local youth free of cost and encourages them towards maritime careers by assisting them to receive the necessary maritime qualifications. Daniel first came to Antigua in 2017 with support from the Merseyside Police with Team Rubicon UK to deliver aid to The Caribbean in the aftermath of hurricane Maria. Having been introduced to the Merseyside Adventure Sailing Trust by a colleague, he thought it would be a great opportunity to have some local Antiguan and Barbudan youth participate in the Tall Ship Races to expose them to potential careers in the maritime industry.
After a careful selection process, J-Maiah and T-Janica were the two young sailors selected. To fund their participation, Daniel and Charlotte approached Sail Training International – a trust with the mission to bring international youth together for sailing – for funding which was supplied by the Sultan of Oman’s bursary. In addition, they also raised funding from various donors to include the Dutchy of Lancaster Benevolent Fund, the Chinese Sailing Association, the Liverpool Commonwealth Association, the Merseyside Adventure Sailing Trust, the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority UK and Europe and the Antigua and Barbuda High Commission in London. In total, over £10,000 was raised to support the travel and training expenses for their participation.
Despite having prior sailing experience, both J-maiah and T-Janica had never sailed on a vessel that large. Prior to departing for Harlingen, they participated in an intensive two-day training organized by the Merseyside Adventure Sailing Trust in Liverpool. The training exposed them to personal development and mentorship skills as well as using a personal logbook and sailing navigation. As part of the crew, they were required to participate on all aspects of the sail voyage to include steering the vessel, being part of the lookout, navigation, and even cooking meals for the other crew members. They sailed over 193 nautical miles across five days. They visited six harbours and crossed two seas and two rivers from Harlingen in The Netherlands to Antwerp in Belgium.
In an interview about his participation J-maiah said, “the sea was a bit flat from what I was accustomed to which is a bit rougher sea. But I am not really accustomed to a long voyage like this. It was a very good experience getting to navigate and just have fun in general.” He added that the project was very important because it helped to bring out certain values like teamwork and patience. It further helped with his self-confidence and comfortability around unfamiliar people. In recounting her experience T-Janica said, “I expected to be afraid a bit but I was not because everyone made sure that we were all comfortable; so it was pretty good honestly. I learned to work better as a team and not just rely on me doing it by myself.” Both said they would encourage other young people to join the Tall Ships Races because it was a fun and rewarding experience.
Charlotte and Daniel both highlighted the value of these programmes to the development of Antigua and Barbuda. Daniel said, “it is about the value of what it does for the development of the young person. It teaches them about communication and working as a team. It is very important to the Blue Economy of Antigua and Barbuda as you are surrounded by water. There are opportunities for pathways into employment for young people and that’s what led me to do this.” Charlotte added, “the problem with an island is visibility; so then this limits young people to thinking this is their world. So, by getting them off the island and showing them there is more out there they can start developing ideas about potential career paths and the necessary education to attain this.”
To recognize their extraordinary achievements, Her Excellency Karen-Mae Hill, hosted a reception in honour of all the young sailors at the Antiguan and Barbudan High Commission in London. Several dignitaries were in attendance to include Mr. Mark Blundell, the Lord Lieutenant of Merseyside who presented them with their Certificates of Achievement. The High Commissioner delivered a charge to the participants in which she congratulated them for their achievements and highlighted the immense pride that they have brought to their nation as a result.
She encouraged them to not limit themselves to this Tall Ships event but to continue to hone their talents and skill in the maritime sector as it is a lucrative career path. Further, she encouraged them to share their expertise and experiences with other young people who might be interested in careers in sailing. To that end, Her Excellency highlighted the importance of developing and fostering the young talent in various careers which are important to Antigua and Barbuda’s maritime sector as the country looks to develop its sustainable Blue Economy agenda.
There are plans to expand the Tall Ships programme to allow for more young people to train aboard these tall ships. There are also plans to have the Tall Ships visit Antigua and Barbuda soon. A visit is currently planned in December of this year by Seas Your Future – a youth development charity which works with young people to get them involved in sailing. They will be sailing a Tall Ship – the Pelican of London – to Antigua and Barbuda as part of a Caribbean wide visit.
For further information on how you participate in these programmes or provide corporate sponsorship please contact Charlotte Hooijdonk at the following contact details: [email protected] or Whatsapp +1-268-7763484.