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VIPCA Celebrates 12 New Graduates from Marine Apprenticeship Program

Assistant Commissioner of Tourism Alani Henneman gestures toward the graduates, urging them to reach out to others. (Photo by Amy H. Roberts)

At a graduation ceremony on July 14 to welcome 12 new recruits to the thriving Virgin Islands marine industry, Alani Henneman, assistant commissioner of Tourism, urged the graduates to “reach out and bring someone with you.”

That’s exactly how Kemoi Andrews found his way to the Marine Apprenticeship Program sponsored by the V.I. Professional Charter Association — better known as VIPCA.

“I had a friend who attended way back,” said Andrews. “I had started to sail, and I wanted to get my captain’s license. When I got the news that (this year’s) program was starting, I took advantage.”

Andrews wants to continue his training, become a captain on powerboats for day charters, and eventually go sailing with his family “on a real voyage — all over the world,” he said.  

With the completion of the apprenticeship program, his dream is well within reach. In the past six years, 65 young adults ages 18-29 have completed VIPCA’s program; many are working in the marine industry, and 10 have earned their captain’s license.

Marine Apprenticeship Program graduates display their certificates aboard the catamaran Lady Lynsey. (Photo by Amy H. Roberts)

During their five-week apprenticeship program, students completed a one-week sailing course at the St. Thomas Yacht Club and a two-week training program in sailing and powerboating with local companies. They developed swimming and scuba diving skills, learned navigation and practical boating theory, and gained experience in boating safety, marina and dock management, customer service, and engine maintenance.

Jayaire Dawson secures a fender. (Photo by Amy H. Roberts)

The program culminates with Standards of Training and Certification of Watch-keeping (STCW), an internationally recognized entry-level marine industry degree. 

The 2023 graduates will be supported in finding jobs in the industry with partners including Ocean Surfari, Lovango Beach Club and Resort, St. Thomas Yacht Club, and Cruz Bay Watersports.  

“Once the apprentices achieve 360 days’ sea time, VIPCA, with assistance by the Department of Labor, shall sponsor their USCG OUPV Captains certifications,” said VIPCA Executive Director Oriel Blake. 

VIPCA officials, from left, Tim Clark, volunteer; Siboney Trevino-Clark, secretary; Peter Pieschel, president; Oriel Blake, executive director, Jim Jackson, vice president; and Staci Smith, assistant director. (Photo by Amy H. Roberts)

“VIPCA is proud to have been appointed by the Governor as a member of the Workforce Development Board as well as being recognized by the Department of Labor and Apprenticeship Council as an eligible training provider,” Blake continued.

“The jobs are there,” said Jim Jackson, a charter boat captain and an instructor in the program who also serves as VIPCA’s vice president. He said watching the trainees progress over five weeks has been gratifying. “It’s fun to watch the quiet ones come out”

At Friday’s ceremony aboard the Lady Lynsey — a 65-foot catamaran that operates out of The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas — family members and other guests sat back and enjoyed the breezy sunset sail. 

Kemoi Andrews and Clemrick Bryan both intend to follow through and get their captain’s licenses. (Photo by Amy H. Roberts)

Meanwhile, the graduates served drinks and hors d’oeuvres, pulled fenders in and sails up, took a turn at the helm, and watched out for rocks and other navigational hazards they had noted on previous voyages.

For some of the younger recruits, the training program is their first venture as they start out their working life. For others, it’s a port of entry for a career change.

Guests and graduates celebrate on a sunset sail Friday evening. (Photo by Amy H. Roberts)

“I’ve been dreaming of becoming a captain,” said Clemrick Bryan, 29, who was born in Antigua and moved to St. Croix when he was 10. He grew up in a family that fished and learned the rudiments of marine mechanics from an uncle. Bryan left the islands and served seven years with a military police unit of the V.I. National Guard; he was studying marine biology before joining the apprenticeship program.

 “When I came back to the Virgin Islands last year, I realized the program was still open. I applied the first hour (the notice) was posted,” Bryan said.

“I’m encouraging anyone with any interest — if you want to pursue anything in life — keep open to this program as an option. You will become part of the community, and you will be guided if you surround yourself with the right people.”

The 12 graduates are Kemoi Andrews, Kalan Bernier, Jevon Browne, Clemrick Bryan, Corbett Kiernan, Jayaire Dawson Henry, Charles Jones, Chervaunte´Lewis, Alewdys Peguero, Elijah Rabsatt, Ayanna Remie, and Ameda Smith.

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