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Women on the Water

Sailing for All with Alison Knights Bramble  –  I don’t believe Alison Knights Bramble when she tells me her future goal is to be lying in a hammock and watching the continuation of what she’s helped create at the BVI Watersports Centre (BVIWSC). I can’t even imagine Alison sitting in a hammock. But I can picture her fixing a hammock or teaching her students which knots they need to employ to make one.

Mrs. Knights Bramble, sporting shorts, a baseball cap, a t-shirt with the sleeves rolled up and bare feet, seems much more comfortable on the water or in the classroom than sitting across from me on the deck of The Boat House Restaurant, located above the BVIWSC. Several times during our interview, I see her eyes look past me toward the waters of Manuel Reef, but she is honest and gracious with her time and accustomed to the press she’s been getting over the last few years.

Last year, Mrs. Knights Bramble was one of five women honoured during International Women’s Day for their contributions to the territory. Just months after that, at a catered press event at Manuel Reef, she received the “ultimate safety boat,” her Pink Panther RIB. On June 28th of this year, she saw the official formation of Special Olympics in the BVI, an initiative she started through her affiliation with RYA Sailability. “Sailability is the Royal Yachting Association’s programme for making sure that all people, including disabled, get on the water and sail,” she says. The RYA’s focus parallels the BVIWSC’s motto: For Fun, For Life and For ALL the People of the BVI. “For the past five years, through Sailability, we’ve been teaching special needs children and adults to get on the water—sail, swim, kayak and snorkel. We produce young sailors who are able to compete internationally within Special Olympics regattas.” She likes to keep busy.

 

The BVIWSC also runs a Sailability apprenticeship program. “Two of the boys, who are now 18, have attended class here for two days a week then a day with Horizon Yacht Charters. In September, Glen started work for Horizon. He’s walked into a job which most of the BVI high school kids would die for, but in fact, most of the BVI high school kids wouldn’t be able to do it. And he’s put the time in. Glen has severe learning disabilities; he can’t read, he can’t write, but he can sail.”

Sailability is just one part of the Watersports Centre. The other part is world-class sailing instruction, as well as teaching sailors how to become a sailing instructor. “The last time I looked, we are the only RYA training centre, certainly in the Caribbean, if not outside of Europe, that offers full dinghy and keelboat schemes, as far as the top-end qualifications go,” she says. “The Watersports Centre is getting mature enough now to actually be producing its own instructors,” she says. “We have now a little hierarchy with Elsa being a drop down from us.” Elsa Meyers received the RYA dinghy instructor’s certificate last year. “Then we have Eben [Meyers] as an assistant instructor. After that, we have a couple boys who are trainee assistant instructors. Then those below them look up to them as a goal.”

Her goal, she says, is that she could pass over the principalship to one of the young sailors currently involved with the program—“to know that we can walk away one day, and it will stay to the level and standard and above what’s happening right now. To be able to walk away and see it continue.” Still, the image of Alison sitting in a hammock just doesn’t work. “I do like to dabble and race,” she says, and my ears perk up. I knew she wouldn’t be able to sit still. “I like to fix boats. I’m restoring three boats that are over thirty years old.” Exactly. She’s going to keep busy, no matter what.  

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