Members of the St. John Kids And The Sea program continue to dominate the local sailing scene, most recently at the 2006 Columbus Day Weekend Laser and Optimist Regatta sponsored by the St. Thomas Yacht Club.
Ten sailors from the St. John KATS program, along with their parents and instructors, attended the regatta on Sunday and Mon-day, October 8 and 9, in Cowpet Bay, St. Thomas.
“They were shining stars — I’m so proud of them,” said St. John KATS president Robin Claire Pitts. “It’s a lot extra for the kids and their parents and instructors to go over to St. Thomas. They were so wonderful.”
Huge Family, Instructor Support
“Three instructors went over for the Sunday venue,” said St. John KATS veteran instructor George Markwood. “We spent a lot of time in chase boats on the course with the children prior to the race. All the instructors and family members were there to support the kids — the support was huge.”
The young St. John sailors spent a month practicing for the Columbus Day regatta and all that hard work payed off, according to Markwood.
“This was the largest contingency from St. John KATS to go to an off-island regatta,” he said. “Our kids won the green fleet and took second, third, fourth and fifth in the blue fleet. We also had Mimi and Hugo Roller Jr. racing lasers along with Jozsi Nemeth racing 420s.”
Program Launched after Tragic Accident
KATS, a non profit organization completely run by volunteers, was launched throughout the Virgin Islands more than 20 years ago after a tragic boating accident in Pillsbury Sound which claimed the lives of three children.
The year-round program is dedicated primarily to safety, but also offers youngsters the opportunity to further their sailing experience well after they have mastered the basics.
“The rowing and seamanship is the first step for the KATS training program,” said Markwood. “Once this portion of our program is completed, children move to our introductory sailing classes. As young sailors improve throughout the years, they move from One Star all the way to Junior Instructors.”
Since its inception in 1988, more than 1,000 children have participated in the St. John KATS program, and many have gone on to great sailing successes.
“Many of our children have gone on to participate in major regattas throughout the world, as well as high school and college championships, college programs and the U.S. Olympic team,” said Markwood. “Many of our graduates have gone on to professions in the boating industry. The KATS program on St. John is recognized as one of the top sailing programs in the Caribbean.”
The youth sailing program costs only $10 a month and many students are eligible for sponsorship. KATS operates on a minimal budget and relies on the community for support, Markwood explained.
“The balance of our operations budget comes from private pledges, fund raisers and donations,” he said.
The KATS fleet consists of two ensign-class keel boats, 19 optimists, 10 sunfish, nine lasers, four 420s, two large row boats and four safety boats. Keeping costs down to ensure the program is not cost-prohibitive for island residents makes maintaining the KATS program’s fleet difficult, Markwood added.
“Our budget for the year 2005 was $70,000,” he said. ‘The bulk of our budget goes to pay for insurance, maintenance and upkeep for our fleet of vessels and fuel costs.”
The St. John KATS program continues to grow and donations are welcome. For more information about the St. John KATS, or to donate to the program, leave a message for Pitts at Connections East at 779-4994.