By Jim Furneaux
The KATS St. John Optimist fleet sails a course near Johnson Bay during the 2010 Commodore’s Cup.
The organizers of this year’s Commodore’s Cup Regatta, being hosted May 14 and 15, are calling on the community to support what is annually the largest fund raiser for the Kids And The Sea St. John program.
“KATS is the single most important program on island to promote development of our youth through hands on education of sailing and the sea,” St. John Yacht Club Commodore Scott Barnett said. “We are calling all hands to participate by sailing, buying raffle tickets and attending the pre- and post-race activities. “
The regatta will be this weekend using Skinny Legs in Coral Bay as its base of operations. The Skipper’s Meeting will start there at 6:30 p.m. Friday, May 13, with the start of the race scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday, May 14, just off Johnson’s Bay.
There will be an after race party at Skinny Legs on both Saturday and Sunday afternoons with an awards ceremony as well on Sunday. The Regatta is organized by the St. John Yacht Club, Coral Bay Yacht Club and Nauti Yacht Club and major sponsors include Budget Marine and Cruzan Rum. Entry forms are available at Connections East and West, St. John Hardware or by calling Barnett at 626-0702.
All of the money raised by the regatta goes entirely to KATS, an all volunteer nonprofit group which has been in existence since 1988. KATS formula is simple — put motivated community volunteers in a structured sea based educational program and out comes more confident, knowledgeable youth.
St. John kids as young as 8-years-old start with basic rowing and seamanship and progress through several levels which reach all the way to advanced skills that prepare young people for college sailing teams, careers in the marine industry and even as far as a track to the Olympics.
The program gives local children an activity while introducing them to their environment, explained Jennifer Robinson, secretary-treasurer of KATS.
“Kids need activity — what better way than fun on the water,” said Robinson. “KATS prepares kids for life through meeting the challenges of knot tying, boat maintenance, and racing technique and strategy. They develop self confidence and an ability to think on their feet.”
Robinson talked about the accomplishments of a number of recent KATS graduates which include members of college sailing teams Sarah Swan (Eckerd), Ian Beam (Tufts), Neil Ford (Old Dominion), Matt Ford (Eckerd) and Angelo Raimondi (Texas), as well as those earning their living in the marine industry like Revel Boulon and Dane Tarr, and even an Olympic hopeful, Mimi Roller.
Roller is a wonderful example of the impact of KATS on kids. She was kind enough to interrupt her finals preparation at St. Mary’s College of Maryland to share her thoughts on KATS and what the program has done for her.
“I started KATS first when I was 8 or 9 and initially quit because I had been frightened by the big boats and my lack of understanding of the elements. My brother had started at the same time as me, but he kept up with it, and soon he began competing in regattas. Since Hugo and I are so close in age, there has always been a lot of sibling rivalry between us, so once he started doing well in regattas, naturally I wanted to start sailing again.
“I went back to KATS when I was 10, and my desire to beat my brother definitely fueled my passion for sailing initially. But the more I went to KATS, I began to appreciate sailing for more than a means in which I could try to be better than my brother. The highlight of each weekend for me was getting to go to KATS.
“Everything from the morning meeting, to the motor boat ride from Skinny Legs to Johnson’s Bay where all of the kids would rush out of the boat in the hopes to get the best equipment of all the boats, to the sailing itself, is something I will always remember. The instructors were always so friendly helpful and insightful and were really great in establishing the basic fundamentals of sailing and then helping transition young kids into the world of competition.
“Although competing in regattas and representing KATS was always something to be proud of, KATS also taught me the value in learning to sail outside of competing as well. Just knowing how to sail as a life skill is very useful. Getting onto the water in any boat, no matter the size, really makes you aware of the immensity of the water and wind and the process of discovering how the water and wind work is one that is immeasurably gratifying.
“Now, I use everything I learned at KATS in both college and international sailing. On the college front, we just qualified for all three of our final national championships — Women’s Fleet Racing, Coed Fleet Racing, and Team Racing. I go to St. Mary’s College of Maryland and we are the only school in our district to have qualified for all three nine years in a row.
“In college I both skipper and crew. On the women’s team I am our division B skipper and I am heavy air crew on our coed team. We are the defending champion in national Team Racing and we hope to defend our title and win the other divisions as well.
“For international sailing, I will be travelling to Germany, England, and Mexico to compete in various regattas in hopes to be able to qualify for the Virgin Islands for the 2012 Olympics in England.
“KATS helped foster my desire to be an Olympic sailor from the time I first started competing in Optimists, and continues to support me strongly today, for which I am greatly appreciative.”
Judging by the accomplishments of Mimi Roller and the other KATS graduates the community’s support of KATS is clearly time and money well spent.
“It is the volunteer cadre that really makes KATS work,” said Robinson. “Much of sail instruction is one-on-one or even two volunteers to one student. Our biggest challenge is to have enough volunteers. All a person needs is a love of children, energy and enthusiasm and we will find a place for them in the program.”
The Commodore’s Cup raffle is the primary source of fund raising from the event for KATS. One lucky winner will take home a Caribe dinghy and 15 horsepower outboard, both of which are on display on the second floor of The Marketplace outside of St. John Hardware. Raffle tickets, $5 each or five for $20, are available through KATS students and St. John Hardware.