What has made the seasoned Caribbean-based operation so successful throughout the journey is young adults accepting challenges and responsibilities head-on while outstanding staff shares their knowledge and skills to support and encourage along the way. The company’s values remain strong year after year: respect for one another, respect for the environment, and a belief that together people can achieve great things.
At the heart of each Sail Caribbean program is a unique, marine-focused experience serving students, ages 11 to college ages, the opportunity to live aboard a 50-foot monohull or a 45-foot catamaran with a group of their peers for either 14 or 21 days. During that time, staff leaders teach essential life skills to these students navigating their teenage years. Leadership. Teamwork. Appreciation. Problem-solving. Decision-making. Responding to the unexpected. The program promotes hard work and stimulates exceptional outcomes.
A 30-minute ride from Road Town’s ferry dock or a 10-minute ride from the Beef Island Airport, Hodges Creek Marina is Sail Caribbean’s home base, where all adventures begin and end from May to August. Once arrived, students relinquish their bond with sturdy ground and move aboard their vessel alongside 10-11 of their peers and 2-3 staff members. Each vessel belongs to a fleet of boats traveling on the water together, designated for a specific program with a particular balance of core focuses.
While some of the young participants are experienced and enthusiastic seafarers, others are complete beginners, and all levels of experience are welcome. Living onboard a yacht is about working, playing and learning as a team as the boat becomes a home they share with a group of people who quickly become their family. This is the most valuable part of the experience as it deepens all other aspects of the program. Boys and girls learn to become seaworthy, respect privacy and close quarters, cook their own meals, clean and maintain their floating homes, and navigate gorgeous and consistently-breezy waters — known to be some of the best sailing in the world!
Surrounded by this beauty in the British Virgin Islands, affectionately known as Nature’s Little Secret, students dive into an itinerary of daily activities that include sailing, scuba diving, snorkeling, marine biology seminars, community service projects, environmental studies, and watersports. The possibilities are endless at Sail Caribbean and so is the confidence teens build when friendship, grit, empowerment and exploration are needed most in their lives.
“This 40th year milestone reminds us of the vision and dedication we’ve always put forth to create a place where teens could forget the comforts of home, and enjoy the empowering spirit and fellowship found on the water among peers,” says Mike Liese. “The students have always been our inspiration and they fuel our unwavering commitment to making our programs a life-changing experience for young minds.”
Following the heartbreaking destruction left by Hurricane Irma and Maria in the fall of 2017, Mike Liese notes that reaching this milestone is especially significant and powerful to our company who watched as Mother Nature left the beautiful islands we call home devastated in its path. As a result, last season lead the company to restructure its continued mission to give back to the local community compassionately and constructively. Their most notable effort last summer blossomed from a strong relationship with a local non-profit organization, Association of Reef Keepers (ARK). ARK assisted Sail Caribbean working alongside the Royal Fleet Auxiliary in removing marine debris from Tortola’s coastal areas and Cane Garden Bay’s ocean floor in a massive effort coined SeaSweep & SwampSweep.
It’s a tall order to lead young people out of their comfort zone to reach heights they might never think possible, but “with a spirited group of teens anxious to spread their wings, and a dedicated staff eager to share their knowledge, I’m proud to say that we make it happen, and we do it year after year.”
One point of pride for the company: Sail Caribbean is the only summer teen scuba diving camp to have its own year-round diving operation. Sail Caribbean Divers, a PADI Five Star Instructor Development Dive Center, was founded in 1999 as the result of two influential and enthusiastic PADI instructors, Mike Rowe, PADI Course Director, and Melisande Rowe, PADI Master Instructor. Having received PADI’s highest dive center rating in the Caribbean, Sail Caribbean Divers is recognized for their record of providing quality dive education and services to enthusiasts of all ages and levels, from beginners to diving experts. Their full-time professional dive staff maintains multiple land-based locations in the BVI, a fleet of three custom dive boats and a full inventory of top-rated scuba equipment. They’re on the leading edge and offer self-paced, online academics to students getting certified for the first time, so there’s more time spent in the water.
The Sail Caribbean Divers’ year-round presence in the BVI and the resulting relationships with local residents and organizations have their rewards. As one of the premier dive operators in the BVI, Sail Caribbean Divers regularly undertake drills for emergencies with VISAR, the BVI’s volunteer marine search and rescue organization. Their divers have assisted VISAR with rescue efforts when called upon, and the drills and procedures are extended to their summer staff during pre-summer training exercises.
It wouldn’t be the Caribbean if one didn’t get up close and personal with the locals! Each Sail Caribbean program allows teens the opportunity to learn about and explore the underwater world, gaining new knowledge in the field of marine biology. The staff gives hands-on seminars each week on topics such as coral reef biology, reef ecology, artificial reefs, fish identification, weather effects, mangrove forests, volcanic island formations and more. Guided night snorkels, beach hikes, and collection workshops are all part of stimulating learning opportunities built-in and around regular activities.
Sail Caribbean, within the global marine science community, works to understand local marine species, in particular, the life cycles of the awe-inspiring Green and Hawksbill sea turtle populations, who find an ideal habitat in the BVI, although, are deplorably threatened. Marine science program students aid staff as they facilitate sea turtle tagging and measurement collection at designated locations on program, all done under the permission and training from the BVI Conservation and Fisheries Department, and the Association of Reef Keepers.
“Although our name provokes the thought, this is far from just a sailing camp. It is all about creating opportunities for teens to really explore and connect with the Caribbean environment and experience especially its warm, welcoming people,“ notes Mike. Community service is an integral and gratifying aspect of program, whether it be cleaning up a local beach, diagnosing coral reef health, tagging sea turtles, or mentoring local kids during outreach efforts with the Youth Empowerment Program (YEP) of the BVI. “We feel that active involvement is a way to give back and show our appreciation after being a part of these islands for 39 tremendous seasons.”
For information on Sail Caribbean and its 40th year of operation, they invite you to learn more on their website or by calling their office to speak to one of their specialists. Over the years, more than 15,000 students have placed a vote of confidence in their programs, their leadership, and their safety record.