Newsletter for June 2022

Glen Herbert
The Grenadines Initiative
Rose Kaye was in touch recently to note that the Junior Sailing Academy Bequia is getting in excess of 40 students each Saturday morning. That's a lot, signalling a desire to get out and do things, together, with other people. These are kids 8 and up who gather to sail, to learn about sailing, and to spend time on the water with friends and mentors.
That the sailing club itself is still here, given the past two years, is a feat in and of itself. Certainly, it wouldn't be operating without the unwavering, and very generous support offered by The Cones Family Foundation. That the program continues is also testament to the passion and commitment of those who have maintained and run it. Prime among them is Fritz Alex Leslie, who teaches the classes, does the photocopying, runs the crash boat, and serves as a mentor for the participants to look up to. He’s tall, so there’s that, but he’s also clearly dedicated, experienced, skilled. A bit of charisma doesn’t hurt, and he has that too. I was there recently as he sketched out a route in the sand, one that the sailors would follow through the harbour. It was one of those things that you see and just wish you could be a kid again, to be there with them, exited, happy, involved in something this cool.

“The kids, they be hyped all week."

It’s hard to overstate what this kind of thing means in the life of a child. Fritz, in listening to the kids, sends lots of subtle messages, just with his attention: You matter. You have something to offer. I want to see you succeed. 

He has operated the club, somewhat selflessly, through a difficult time, one where donor resources have been directed to supporting families through the challenges of the shutdowns, the volcano, and the echoes that remain from both of those. He’s been out there every Saturday possible—barring ash, pandemic shutdowns, high seas—in his day-glow shirt and sunglasses. He’s not a pushover. When some kids make some less than exemplary decisions—they cut too close, or get a bit aggressive with speed—he’s there, on the crash boat, correcting them. He doesn’t take any guff. There’s lots of subtle messages in that, too.

“I just enjoy having the kids out, letting them have fun on Saturday, keeping them out of trouble," he says. “I think I instill a life skill.” Apart from the lessons and the fun, he teaches them to do odd jobs on the boats, including cleaning and repairs. “I try to instill some of the life wisdom that I have from growing up."

He adds that he thinks it’s helping. He’s being modest; it very clearly is helping. “There are more and more kids asking to join up,” including more girls than ever before. “The kids, they be hyped all week. They be messaging me on the group chat and saying which boats they think they can sail, and how many laps they think they can do this week. Sometimes they have an idea about the different set up for the courses. That’s good, because I’m getting them involved in map reading, skill building."

When I ask him what he hopes the program gives to the kids, he answers without a pause. “Humility. Some of them, they come and at home their family is going through problems. You can see the anger in their face. But when they leave in the afternoon everyone is smiling, having fun. That’s it for me: the humility and the respect. So they go through life with a different attitude."

“They start off pulling ropes, tying knots. Then they go to the Optis. Then the Picos. Then whoever I notice is very advanced, I move them up to the double enders, to the traditional boats."

Fritz doesn’t work alone. Josh Simmonds is a key assistant in all things. There is also a senior trainer, Jojo Adams. They do it for the same reason that Fritz does: they love it and appreciate an opportunity to give something of value. As they grow through the program, the participants take on more responsibility and provide more leadership.

“But I really need more boats,” Fritz says. Having two double enders is unique to the club, and add dimension to the offering. “With the double enders, I can put some of the bigger kids to sail those boats. And I can allocate the lighter boats to the smaller children so we can teach them how to read the wind, how to tack. It’s like a step-up phase. They start off pulling ropes, tying knots. Then they go to the Optis. Then the Picos. Then whoever I notice is very advanced, I move them up to the double enders, to the traditional boats.”

There are some grander ambitions as well. He’d like to see more captains coming out of the Caribbean, “particularly Bequia, which produces pretty good sailors. We should have more people being captains on our island.” With the right support, we could expand to offer mid-week sessions as well. But, as with so many things, it takes a village, perhaps particularly now. Fritz is definitely a glass-half-full person—he’s positive, gracious—but at the end of our call he acknowledges that, well, things are tight. “I don’t want to say that it’s going to come to a halt if there’s no money. But If I can’t get cash to get petrol to take the crash boat out on Saturdays. And the kids love sailing. They’d be on my case about it.” Understandably so.
The "Mr Ron"
Friends and families have supported the club though thought leadership, time, even boats. In the past some of the local guest houses and resorts have sponsored the club, which has reciprocated that generosity by offering unique experiences to the guests. Most recently, the Cutajar family donated a boat in memory of Ron Cutajar, christened “Mr Ron.” That boat has been on the water for about a year now, but I was there this past spring when Candy Cutajar, able finally to travel down post the shutdowns, saw it in person for the first time. It was a brilliant, uniquely satisfying moment.

But an area of keen need at the moment are repairs the Shamu, a double ender, which will cost $6000EC ($3000CDN). We’d like to get the boat full of sailors, under full sail, as soon as we can. We’ve raised about half that amount, and if you are able to contribute, you can make a donation by clicking here, and indicating in a note that you’d like to help Shamu. You can also reach out to me directly at Fritz could use some help, too, both in the office and on the water. If you or someone you know would like to pitch in, let me know. 
Glen Herbert
Executive Director
Ph: 289 439 7052
Sign up for the newsletter, submit a project proposal, volunteer, or offer insight into existing projects.
Choose from a range of projects requiring support, from scholarships, to classroom resources, to community health initiatives.