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Friday 9th December 2011

Every year during the Antigua Charter Yacht Show it’s awe-inspiring to wake up in the morning, look out the window and see Falmouth Harbour filled with many of the most spectacular yachts in the world.  But one of the most rewarding experiences the Show has to offer is stepping on a yacht and being greeted by the mate who has worked on board for seven years and was born, raised and learned to sail in Antigua.

Jace Hector is the mate who provided me with that rewarding experience on Tuesday morning.  Jace grew up in Antigua and had what was in those days the privilege of learning to sail at Antigua Yacht Club.  But learning to sail in Antigua is no longer a privilege.  Thanks to the dedication and hard work of many individuals led by Elizabeth Jordan, Commodore of Antigua Yacht Club, all school children in Antigua from 8 to 18 years of age now have the right to learn to sail under Antigua’s National Sailing Academy!

Jace became interested in the Antigua Yacht Club youth sailing program in 1991/92 when he was about 11 years old.  In the years that followed, he developed into an avid sailor and enjoyed being on the water whenever possible.  The sailing knowledge and experience that he gained at Antigua Yacht Club led him to a job with Antigua Rigging when he finished high school.
That job was a tremendous learning experience and Jace progressed in his position until one day he was asked to assist on the charter yacht Melinka for a couple of months.  He accepted the challenge and, as they say, the rest is history.  Jace never looked back and has now worked on Melinka for seven years.

Melinka was designed by Sparkman and Stephens and was built by Nautor Swan as a 76-foot custom yacht in 1981.  In 1995 she was rebuilt and extended from 76 to 80 feet and then in 2003 she again had an extensive refit.  Forrest Shropshire took over as captain in 2006 but he first visited English Harbour, Antigua in 1979.  He has been a regular in Antigua on various yachts since the 1990s and has spent considerable time at the Catamaran Marina where several of his yachts have been based.

Jace is a very outgoing guy and was happy to explain the roles of the three different crew members on the boat.  The basic philosophy is that everyone pitches in and helps each other.  Jace’s primary responsibilities are on deck, cleaning, polishing and sailing the boat, but he also spends a good deal of his time passing tools to the Captain who also acts as mechanic, drying dishes in the galley and even tucking in the sheets or mopping the floors when necessary.  Although Jace has clearly defined responsibilities and Forrest allows him to get on with his job without interfering, working on a busy boat with only three crew members requires that when there is work to be done everyone pitches in and helps wherever help is needed.

Jace Hector’s success is an excellent example of the opportunities that exist for young Antiguans to find jobs in the yachting industry.  He referred to the yachting industry as ‘sitting on Antigua’s doorstep just waiting to be discovered by anyone who is interested’, but he has plenty of advice for aspiring young yachtsmen.  In Jace’s eyes, one of the most important things is to always be clean and presentable, even if only walking the docks looking for day work.  Other advice includes having a good work ethic, being willing to learn and accept that there will always be others who know more than you, accepting their advice and guidance, working well independently and, of course, learning to sail.  It is essential to have an understanding of who is in charge and to be able to take direction when offered.

Another important bit of advice is to know how to behave when the yacht is on charter.  The crew must be outgoing, patient, friendly and tolerant.  They must know when to say something and when to keep quiet.  And most importantly, they must work on the basis that the charter guest is always right and the crew’s primary function is to do everything possible to ensure a positive charter experience for the guests.

Asked if Jace found it difficult to work in what is perceived to be a ‘white man’s world’, he laughed and said he never even thinks about it that way.  On the very odd occasion that someone has made what could be perceived as a racist comment to him, he has just brushed it off as he would any other insult from a sailor or other patron who had had too many drinks at the bar.  He said that in the many years he has been in the industry he has never even thought about it as being an issue.

One of the positive aspects of Jace’s job is that Melinka is based at the Catamaran Marina in Falmouth Harbour, one of the yacht’s two homes, for much of the winter season every year.  The second home is in New England on the east coast of the United States where Melinka spends her summers.  It is a wonderful arrangement because when in Antigua Jace can go home to his own bed every night and when in New England, Captain Forrest is able to do the same thing.  So they take turns being responsible for the boat after daytime hours, which appears to work very well for both of them and is a privilege that not many yacht crew have.

Jace has a 200-ton yacht licence and has plans to obtain his RYA Yachtmaster Ocean in the near future.  Having been mate on the same boat for seven years, Jace is confident that he could take on the role of Captain of a similar boat at this stage in his career.  Asked what the future holds, Jace couldn’t help but say he expects he’ll end up on a power boat at some point in the not too distant future.  In what is likely to be a higher paid job than on a sail boat, Jace will be able to stash away some savings before returning to what he loves later in his career – sailing!

Sail on Jace and may many other aspiring young Antiguans follow in your footsteps!

Article by Kathy Lammers, Editor of Antigua’s Yachting Insider
Photos by Alison Sly-Adams

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