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The Saturday Morning Gang by John Merritt

Arriving at the St Maarten Yacht Club, about 8 am on the first Sunday in March, the area was already a hotbed of activity, preparing to stuff over three hundred goodie bags to be handed out during the 34th annual Heineken Regatta. Now, just a few days ahead of the beginning of racing, a dedicated cadre of volunteers is ready to tackle stuffing the bags, just as they had assembled for over a month of Saturday mornings already, to accomplish a wide array of essential tasks that are so important to the success of this premier, world class regatta. It is an event that has become an island staple, to which folks flock, from around the world, to participate in, watch and celebrate with, each year.

These, non-glamorous jobs often, literally, require heavy lifting. This includes seemingly endless shifting of every kind of boat or course equipment, as well as beverages, food, staples and all the other supplies, required to stage the event. In preparation, material moves from containers, to offices, to boats and back to containers again. Then, during the racing, more of all of that, plus supporting a different party venue each evening, after the boats have all returned from the competition, with their crews' work done for the day. Brochures and posters are distributed to every corner of the island and the identifying numbers that many entered boat must display, in lieu of sail numbers, must be inspected, repaired, sorted and readied for registration. After the races, different materials are moved and stored and the returned boat numbers need to be cleaned and neatly stowed for the next year. These are just the highlights of a long list of tasks, often unnoticed by most, accomplished by the Saturday crew.

Working with them and watching them work together, one is struck with how much like a big family this dedicated group behaves. Always found somewhere near the center of activity, like a favorite uncle, Arthur MacDonald serves as sparkplug and guide through many tasks, which he has participated in for nearly a decade, with his wife Laina. A Rhode Island native, he has learned and remembered shortcuts which helps keep things moving and producing efficiently. A few more New Englanders also populate this energetic circle, many of whom are retirees spending their winters on the island. Three, from Connecticut, with 12, 15 and 15 years volunteering respectively, are Jim Walsh, Tony Parisi and Bill Petzold. First timers, Dick and Jane Rozak, from Massachusetts, round out this geographic origin. California is represented by Bob Johnson and Ed and Rose Hopkins hail from Pennsylvania. Serge Michaut and Patrich Roussel, who also help organize and run the water taxi service, have both traveled the world, before becoming engaged in the regatta. Patrich has lived on St. Maarten since 1993 and Serge, now travels from New York each year, after settling there, after time in many places, including Germany, Switzerland and California.

With casual, military discipline, the assembly-line staffing, stuffing squad filled all the bags, with a couple dozen items of widely varying sizes, shapes weights and fragility, in about two and a half hours. The reply from every participant, to the question: “What do you like best about volunteering for the regatta?” was invariably “the people here!” as they gestured towards their companions. They truly comprise a big, happy and functional family that one only needs to experience once to be fully amazed by and more than a little tempted to join in with. A diligent and dedicated crew, the Saturday Morning Gang is a bedrock part of the success the Heineken Regatta has enjoyed, now, for the 34th year.

John Merritt followed all our volunteers round during the regatta this year to find out more about them. This article is one of many that he wrote and we are very grateful for the voice he has given our wonderful volunteers especiallly as he was a volunteer himself.

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