The V.I. Professional Charter Association celebrated the graduation of the 2020 edition of its Marine Apprentice Program Tuesday afternoon in American Yacht Harbor.
VIPCA Executive Director Oriel Blake said the program is an opportunity to improve employment in a growing industry. During the pandemic, yachting has been viewed as a way to “isolate in luxury” and bookings for charters have increased.
The graduates this year were Andy Thompson, Dontre Antonie, Devon Bracy, Isiah Benjamin, Curis Baxter II, Gregory Rodriguez, Edward Bertrand II, Javon Douglas, Korda Cornelius Jr., Malik Van Beverhoudt and Jahjadey Hodge Bracy, who is from St. Croix. This year marks the first year someone was sponsored from St. Croix. One day the organization hopes to run another summer program on St. Croix.
The ceremony began with the graduates returning from the final day of training on the water with Stormy Pirates. Blake started the program by congratulating the students and thanking the sponsors for their help, and she read a letter from Department of Tourism Commissioner Joseph Boschulte to the graduates.
Kristina Edwards, the education and outreach coordinator for Coastal Zone Management, read letters to extend best wishes from Jean-Pierre Oriol, commissioner of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources; Howard Forbes Sr., commissioner of DPNR’s Division of Environmental Enforcement; and Sens. Janelle Sarauw and Kenneth Gittens.
The members of the graduating class received these letters in their folder, which also included the certificate of completion of the program.
The program is an intense five-week training course for captain, crew and marine services. After completing the curriculum, graduates will have certification in first aid, CPR, boating safety and basic training for Standards of Training and Certification of Watch Keeping (STCW).
The cost of the STCW usually is $1,200, but it was included in the program.
A five-day sailing course at the St. Thomas Yacht Club and a seven-day program with Cruz Bay Watersports are some of the ways the program gets participants on the water.
People who take the course will be taught skills needed to land a job in the marine field, such as navigation and the rules of the road, marina and dock management, charter vessel maintenance, charter and business operation, technical skills on diesel engines, outboards, electrical systems and plumbing.
Some participants came into the program not knowing how to swim and can now scuba dive. All of the participants echoed that they would recommend the program to anyone who is eligible and has any interest in boating. They agreed the class exceeded their expectations.
Bertrand said that the program went “really in-depth about sailboats and powerboats,” and he learned “all the parts of the boat and how they work with each other.”
He also said he enjoyed learning about cool spots to take charters boats, especially Hansen Bay, which he knew about but had never had the chance to explore. Before the program, he was interested in being a yacht captain or harbor manager, but now he said his ultimate goal is to work with big vessels and get his unlimited licenses.
Thompson said he learned to dock, scuba dive, work with customers, service diesel engines, learning to sail IC-24’s, “and everything’s been great.”
Thompson is looking for a job as a crew member, so he can eventually become a captain.
Cornelius said he thought the program was going to be mainly about sailboats but learned very quickly that it would be about many different types of boats and many different opportunities in the marine industry. He said that some of his most enjoyable moments in the five weeks were racing IC-24’s and taking the dinghy around St. John. His favorite spot he learned about was Lovango. His goal after the program is now to be licensed to operate 100,000-ton vessels.
The Marine Apprenticeship Training Partners this year were Charter Caribe, the Captain School, St. Thomas Swimming Association, Ocean Safari, St. Thomas Yacht Club, Cruz Bay Watersports, Department of Planning and Natural Resources’ Division of Enforcement, Multitech Marine, Underwater Adventure, Jamann Sailing Adventures, CYOA Yacht Charters, Yacht Haven Grande Marina and Stormy Pirates Boat Charters.
One of the new elements of this year’s program was the involvement of DPNR. DPNR has had a hard time finding recruits for its conservation enforcement officer positions in their Division of Environmental Enforcement. When this addition was announced, DPNR’s Oriol told the Source, “The department saw it as a great opportunity to provide young applicants an introduction to the maritime career.”
Due to the coronavirus, this year’s graduation was livestreamed, and the public was not invited to the event.
The training program is free for those who qualify. Applicants trying to qualify must be residents of the territory and graduated from a public high school in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The Island Foundation sponsored 10 students, and IGY Marinas sponsored an additional two students this year.
VIPCA established a 501(c)(3) charity arm called the Marine Rebuild Fund to boost job opportunities in the territory’s marine industry by creating marine education training/development programs. MRF is fiscally sponsored by the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands.
Blake is the founder of MRF, and Edwards is a member. Other members of the fund are Alyse Arehart, Brigitte Berry and Bill Newbold.
MRF raises funding year-round for the annual program for young adults from St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix in partnership with Cruise Ship Excursions.