Sails Pitch

Editor Mary South visits Nevis and finds a worthy cause in the tiny local yacht club.

Nevis Yacht Club burgee
Mary South

Karen Davella of the Four Seasons Nevis was taking us to Bananas, a lovely and popular restaurant up in the hills, just so we’d get to experience another cool local place before we left the island the next morning. As she pulled the car out of the drive, she handed me a wrapped present. “That’s from our purchasing director,” she said, turning onto the main road. I couldn’t imagine why someone I had never met would be giving me a present. Well, maybe it’s a Four Seasons knickknack of some sort, I mused. She must have seen the baffled look on my face because she added, “You’ll understand when you open it.”

I pulled the ribbons at each end, discarded the tissue paper and was thrilled to unfurl a Nevis Yacht Club (NYC) burgee. Now, that's a good present. I was touched by the gift — perhaps more than most people would immediately understand — but I think you guys probably get it. A burgee is a home flag, a symbol of a place that's special to you, a sign of membership and yachting community. Maybe I read more into the gesture than Neil Rooney of the Four Seasons meant; perhaps he was merely proud of its pretty design. But what can I say? I'm easily moved by kindness and generosity. I felt honored.

I’d already heard a little about NYC (read more about my trip to St. Kitts and Nevis on page 56), and it sounded like my kind of club. There are about 70 members, with a small clubhouse made from donated building materials. It is about as far as you can imagine from the stuffier notions of a yacht club.

Photo Courtesy Nevis Yacht Club

Established in the mid-’90s, the club had a youth sailing program (run for many years by Chris Erdmann) that really started to gain traction when member Deby Wallace, who now runs its day-to-day operations, arranged the purchase of a fleet of Optimists from the Sint Maarten Yacht Club. Commodore Mark Theron points to this as a galvanizing moment for the club because more adults became interested in helping out.

“Positive youth development” is the club’s focus, and it provides junior memberships and sailing lessons free to island kids. And what’s better, the local swimming teacher, Edris Fellows, has joined the NYC and offers free swimming lessons to all island children, using the club as her base. (Knowing how to swim is a prerequisite to sailing lessons.)

Club dues have doubled this year and it’s now about $75 annually for full, resident membership. The NYC’s programs are funded through monthly barbecue socials and volunteer donations. The club is now an affiliated member of the Royal Yachting Association and has eight students on their way to RYA level 4 certification. There’s also a movement afoot to create a St. Kitts and Nevis Sailing Association that would become a member of the International Sailing Federation, allowing local sailors to enter more international sailing events and someday send a Nevisian to the Olympics.

Many of you started sailing when you were young, and I don’t need to tell you about the lifelong value of early years spent mastering a challenging — and fun — sport. I also know, firsthand, that in addition to being truly salty, most of you exhibit the telltale generosity of spirit I have so often encountered on the docks from fellow yachtsmen.

So, I couldn't help but think that this was a cause YACHTING readers would get behind. If you click here you'll see NYC has set up a PayPal account where you can make a donation directly to the club that will go toward the purchase of 420s and Lasers. We'll be sending the NYC a YACHTING burgee to hang in its clubhouse to commemorate our friendly efforts, and those of you who give $100 or more will receive the same gorgeous NYC burgee that now hangs on my office wall.

Here’s a chance for us to make a big difference in the lives of Nevisian children for very little money. Someday we may even help an island kid win Olympic Gold. But for today, let’s just send our fellow sailors a little love.