In honor of Valentine’s Day, we turned up the heat, dishing out questions to a variety of our valued members of the Sail Caribbean Family. We like to stir up this excitement regularly on our programs in a game we call ‘Hot Seat‘.
What is your favorite (metaphorical) hat to wear?
My favorite hat isn’t as much seen but felt. I’ll call it my “pride hat”, one that pops onto my head when I feel good about doing the right thing and getting it right as best as possible. A very large part of my life is Sail Caribbean, and I enjoy my role of contributing to everyone’s effort for us to be as good as we can be. Our exceptional leaders and kids are the heart of this vision, and I love being involved in its success.
What’s your favorite part about cultivating student/family relationships?
I can’t take credit for family relationships alone – it is 100% a group effort. From the first phone call we receive – whether a family speaks with a Program Consultant or Director, Mike Liese – until that last phone call in the late summer/early fall, we are truly building a rapport with these families. My favorite aspect is growing along with the students as well as families. By the time the student arrives in Tortola, I feel like I know the family on a personal level – the feeling gets better if the student or a sibling joins again the following summer (or even a summer removed). For me, these connections go well beyond customer/consumer, we are a part of each other’s lives. The feedback I receive from parents (and staff) at the end of the summer, is truly humbling and I will carry it with me wherever I go.
What does the most memorable day at Sail Caribbean look like to you?
My most memorable day at Sail Caribbean was as a student and during the Sierra 2 program I was apart of in 2011. A lot of the other students from my program were finishing up their dive certifications and there was a small group of us that went for a hike on Salt Island (my favorite Island in the BVI still to this day). It was towards the end of the trip and I felt as though I had connected with my boat mates in a way that I hadn’t with a lot of people from home. In the short hike, we reminisced on all of our favorite moments from the trip so far and how we felt we had made lifelong friends. Our captain, Graham, joined right in with us, leading the hike and helping fuel our discussion, reminding us of some amazing times we had all shared together. As we got to the peak, we started to feel a slight drizzle but as it passed over the island, it created this perfect rainbow right in front of us. It was this quintessential Sail Caribbean moment: Standing there with genuine friends, having just hiked to the top of an island in the Caribbean, feeling the light drizzle and the perfect Caribbean sun, while looking at this rainbow. It’s a moment I’ll never forget and experiences like that, those “life check” moments, that keep me coming back summer after summer.
How does Sail Caribbean’s marine science curriculum stand out from others you’ve been a part of?
Marine science is a topic that is best explored in the field. I am a high school biology teacher, and when I teach marine science in the classroom, we have to use many video clips to observe how the processes discussed affect the natural world. I have also taught marine ecology in the field in Abu Dhabi, but again it was limited to what was surrounding us and what we came in contact with. Through Sail Caribbean, students are able to see firsthand the topics that we are discussing. We are able to match specific lessons with each location which allows students to learn about things like mangroves, fish diversity, and night activity, and then step out of the “classroom” (off the back of our boats) to become surrounded by what we have just learned about. By pairing up lessons and in-water activities, students are able to broaden their understanding and come back with questions based on their firsthand observations.
At Sail Caribbean, we have excellent staff who are currently studying marine science or who have devoted their lives to it. When combined with the enthusiasm brought to us by our students, we often have questions and discussions that last throughout the entire 2 or 3 week program.
One of my favorite aspects of the Sail Caribbean curriculum is its flexibility. We allow students to get direct experiences conducting turtle tagging, reef health observations, and water quality tests which we compile each year so that students can see the progression of the data, for instance, the growth of a turtle or the size or percent cover of corals from year to year. Students can conclude if there was a coral bleaching event in the past months or what life stage a turtle might be in.
With so many talented students returning to our program, or joining us for the first time with their own independent passions and experiences, we are able to assist student driven lessons and dissections. Last summer, our Sierra students led shark lessons and lionfish dissections not only for their peers on the program, but also articulated their experiences to our other programs on the water not focused on marine biology. In those moments, they demonstrate their mastery of curriculum and it is truly remarkable.
How did you know that your son, at age 11, was ready for an adventure travel program such as ours?
Trying new and adventurous things was not something foreign to William. At age 4, he started skiing and never had any fear of the mountain and the challenges it presented. And, his love of the ocean began before he could walk – jumping the waves quickly turned to body surfing and boogie boarding the biggest waves he could find.
When it became clear that the summer day camp he attended had run its course, we asked him, “if you could choose anything to do over the summer what would it be?” He said he always loved sailing at summer camp, but wanted to learn how to sail a real boat, and if he could learn how to SCUBA and snorkel, that would be the best.
A quick online search put us in touch with Sail Caribbean. We were put in touch with 2 families from our town whose kids had attended the camp. The feedback from both families was the same and instantly put us at ease. That first summer, seeing him off at the airport wasn’t easy, but this was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made – it has had an extremely positive impact on his self-confidence, his independence and leadership skills.
How did you propel your love for sailing and diving through your time spent with us?
After my first experience with Sail Caribbean as a student on the 2011 Bravo program, I knew I had found something special. I entered as an already avid sailor, though I had never been given such great responsibility as performing all the sailing maneuvers with my fellow boat mates and minimal staff assistance from day one. And the beauty of the British Virgin Islands was, and still is, unmatched! I also discovered a whole new world in the same program when I learned to scuba dive. Becoming fully immersed in the awe-inspiring underwater ecosystem of the BVIs was a first-time adventure I will surely never forget.
I returned the next two summers to continue further expanding my sailing and diving skills. In 2014, a close friend (and fellow boat mate from my first two programs) and I decided to attain the professional Divemaster certification and intern, all with the newly-offered Divemaster internship on the Charlie program. Knowing I had found a new family I couldn’t easily depart from, I returned the following three summers as a full-time staff member, beginning as a Captain and becoming a Program Director along the way. I have participated in nearly every program offered in one capacity or another, and I love each one for its unique focus and style.
My seven years with Sail Caribbean have truly shaped who I am today. I still remember every boat mate I had as a student and every student I have taught as a diving intern, Captain, and Program Director. The British Virgin Islands is a remarkable place for a teenager to develop valuable life skills and gain new friendships. Sail Caribbean stimulates these lessons phenomenally!
After your first year, what made you come back for more this summer?
My first year at Sail Caribbean was certainly memorable. From the less than ideal arriving conditions to the endless rays of sunshine and cool ocean breeze, I enjoyed every minute. I was drawn back not only by my love of the water and the memories I had of the previous year, but also the prospect of all of the other things that SC has to offer. I hope to grow my sailing skills a great deal this year and get my next ASA certification. The Delta program should also (hopefully) expose me to a lot of daily sailing of the larger vessel, and I hope that being part of a more experienced crew will also bolster my skills as a sailor. I guess that the shortest and most entirely true answer would be my love of the outdoors, and that SC is an avenue for me to experience a new side of the outdoors that Florida does not entirely fill.
The greatest challenge during the program was staying entertained during the quarantine period. Not being able to leave your boat and not having a phone, which was a crutch against boredom, it was difficult at first to stay entertained.