Garth Steyn is The Daily Herald's Sports Person of the Year for 2019. An avid sailor, Steyn is also a businessman who saw a need for young people to join the Marine Trades sector. He did something about it. He is co-founder of Kidz at Sea Programme.
Kidz at Sea started in 2012. “The Marine Trades make up approximately 20 per cent of the island's GDP, (Gross Domestic Product)” said Steyn. “There was a shortage of local young people interested in working on boats.” Steyn believes the sea is in your blood. You have to learn to swim and love the water at an early age to get involved in working on, or with boats later in life. “I grew up sailing,” said Steyn. “I was in diapers when I was first on a boat.”
Steyn wanted to pass on his love of the sea to others. He runs Aqua Mania Adventures in Simpson Bay. They offer boat trips, snorkelling, diving and much more. “Most of the people we hired were not from St. Maarten,” said Steyn. “I wanted to do something about that.” In 2012 he teamed up with Lorraine Talmi and formed Kidz at Sea Foundation.
Kidz at Sea Foundation is dedicated to providing young people with access to the opportunities that exist within St. Maarten’s marine industry, including water sports and other water-based activities.
The projects and programmes are geared toward teaching life skills to help the “Kidz” succeed both on and off the water, developing skills such as teamwork, communication, accountability and self-reliance. One of their first projects was to get young people involved in building a boat, called “Build Your Future.”
'Build Your Future' teaches high school students at Milton Peters College to build boats using the traditional methods. On the weekend the students are treated to sailing. Here is one of Steyn's Facebook posts about a race he and some of the Kidz experienced:
“This weekend, Kidz at Sea had one of the nicest regattas we have sailed as a group. We had about 18 youths from our group turn up. We sailed in the Battle of the Bars Regatta, organized by St. Maarten 12M Regatta in Great Bay. It was spectacular, the water was turquoise blue, perfect wind conditions. The wildlife we saw was amazing, too. We saw dolphins, spotted eagle rays, and so many turtles we lost count.”
Things were going good for Kidz at Sea Foundation until 2017, when Hurricane Irma hit. That day in September changed everything and by October there was a mass exodus of foreign-born boat captains and crew leaving the Island looking for work on other islands not impacted by the storm.
That's when Kidz at Sea became the Zero to Hero programme. It was a series of
3-month courses that led to STCW (Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers ), Basic Keelboat, Boatmaster, First Aid and VHF radio use certifications.
The students learn how to safely clean the bottom of a boat, protecting first themselves from the bottom paint used to keep the boat surface smooth and growth free, and how to clean and paint the boat with the least possible impact to the environment.
The students also learn first aid, CPR, rules of the road (boat traffic protocols) for driving power boats and helming sailboats. They learn the proper way and channels of using a marine VHF radio. They learn about the different colour lights on boats and on land and how to dock and set anchors.
Fun is a big part of the programme. The Kidz are taught to love the water and the all the living things in it. There are opportunities to snorkel, swim, to learn about the environment and even dive. There is always emphasis on safety and how that would translate into working with tourists.
The Zero to Hero programme focuses on unemployed youth and is housed in Simpson Bay Marina. The target group is age 17 and up. The groups consist of approximately 10 to 12 individuals at a time. The group is split in two. One week half the group is on the boat, learning how to operate the vessel and collecting sea time, while the other half is in the marina learning about boat maintenance.
“Certification is expensive,” explains Talmi. “It costs about $6,000 (US). I think that is why a lot of local kids do not go into Marine Trades. It is a big investment and you don't know if you will like it.” The Zero to Hero was a two-year programme. Sixty students have passed through the programme and have been certified. “At least one-third of the students have landed a job,” beams Steyn.
Steyn is proud, and rightfully so, of the programme's graduates. “A few of our kidz have joined the Coast Guard,” said Steyn. He smiled and continued, “because of the training they had and their certifications they were promoted right away.” While most of the Kidz in the programme are young men, there have been a few young women. One of these joined the Coast Guard, breaking the way for other girls to join the programme.
“Finding employment is often about networking,” said Talmi. Steyn and the Kidz at Sea programme are always looking for ways to introduce the students to boat Captains and crew of the Mega yachts and other potential local Marine Trade employers. Visits are arranged to tour mega yachts, sailmakers and even the local chandlery.
They host mid-week sailboat races in Simpson Bay Lagoon and invite Mega yacht crews to field teams for a sunset evening of fun. Kidz at Sea boats are seen racing in all the local regattas including the high-profile St. Maarten Heineken Regatta.
Recently, Kidz at Sea had the opportunity to meet the skipper and crew of Maiden. In 1990, Maiden competed in the Around the World Whitbread Race with the first-ever all-female crew. The team won two legs of the race. Now years later, the 58ft. Maiden is sailing around the world again with an all-female crew on a new mission to raise awareness and funds for girls’ education around the globe on a two-year world tour on behalf of Maiden Factor Foundation.
The Dutch Disaster Fund NRF supported the Zero to Hero programme for two years. The last class finished on December 23. “We are looking for new sponsors,” admitted Steyn. “We hope to start the new class in February.”
For his years of working with youth, teaching love of the sea, sailing, swimming and diving, as well as helping train qualified Marine Trades employees and future employers, Garth Steyn in The Daily Herald's Sports Person of the Year for 2019.