Youth Instructor, one of three remaining traditionally-built Tortola Boats, was relaunched on Thursday, June 25, 2020 after almost two and half years of repair work following her sinking in Hurricane Irma on September 6, 2017.
Board members of the Virgin Islands Sloop Foundation (VISF), and a small crowd of supporters watched her launching. VISF chairman Jamal “Fiyah” Davies, welcomed the crowned of supporters, many of whom have provided work and resources to see Youth Instructor launched again. Geoff Brooks, long-time curator of the sloops, blessed her and shipwright Tenisha Roberts, smashed a bottle of Arundell Rum on her bow.
Irma wrought considerable damage to the sloop collection. Moonbeam, which was in the boatyard for Irma, along with Sea Moon, did not survive Irma. Youth Instructor and Intrepid sunk during the storm. Remarkably Youth Instructor and Intrepid remained relatively intact and, after four months underwater, both were raised in January 2018 by Blue Water Divers.
Intrepid, the oldest sloop built in 1914, will be the next boat to restored and relaunched.
Esmie, built in 2015 by Leando Nibbs, was also sunk during Irma and raised along with Youth Instructor. She was generously donated by Leando who had dreamed of building a sloop since he was a child. Named after his wife Esmie, who helped to build the boat, takes it place among the artefacts of Virgin Islands culture and history and acts as an inspiration to future generations of Virgin Islanders.
The preservation work continues to be headed by Professor Geoff Brooks, who has nurtured these boats for many years as the curator of the Virgin Islands Maritime Museum, and now, the VISF, a nonprofit organisation.
Nanny Cay is providing storage and dock space. Over time, an area will be developed into a more permanent visitors centre and maritime museum.
A substantial donation by a private charitable trust, together with over $7000 donated to the VISF via the charities One Love and Sail Aid UK post-Irma, have enabled the work on the recovery and restoration of these historic boats.
Two Apprentice Boatbuilders
The VISF is providing funding for materials and employment of two apprentices to restore the Sloops with the help of Geoff. Norissa deLeon and Chemoia Hodge are both graduates of the Introduction To Woodworking Course which was part of the Maritime Studies programme at the H Lavity Stoutt College.
Geoff taught these courses, and after completing them, Norissa and Chemoia gained valuable experience by helping him rebuild his roof after Irma.
An Important Piece Of BVI Maritime History
An important legacy of the rich seafaring past of the BVI can be found in the trading sloops, known as the Tortola Boats, designed and built in the BVI territory. These sailing vessels were used by local entrepreneurs as early as the 18th century to ferry passengers and cargo around the Caribbean. They ranged in length from 20-60 feet and became a solid cornerstone around which grew the culture and economy of the BVI. The unique design made Tortola Boats immediately recognisable as they sailed between islands. This important piece of BVI maritime history was almost lost when many of the vessels were sold or abandoned to rot after the advent of more modern sail and motor crafts.
Virgin Islands Sloop Foundation – a non-profit organisation
The Virgin Islands Sloop Foundation’s aim is to preserve the maritime heritage of the Virgin Islands by ensuring that the history and knowledge of traditional wooden boat building is passed on to future generations.
• To provide funding and supervision for the maintenance and restoration of historically significant wooden sloops in the Territory.
• To organise and develop programmes that teach and enhance boat-building skills as a learning opportunity for the youth of the Virgin Islands.