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Sailing the V.I.


KWC ’s 2010 Winter Term (Jan. 4-22) included a class called Leadership Through Sailing. Veteran sailor and criminal justice professor Ken Ayers took three students to the Virgin Islands for the trip of a lifetime. This page is a compilation of their updates and photos (newest posts at the top).

For a larger gallery of photos from the trip, view the Sailing the Virgin Islands 2010 set on KWC’s Flickr channel.


February 19

Caribbean Soul

This applies to life in the same way. Like the wind, there are many variables that occur on a daily basis in life and you have to account for these occurrences appropriately to achieve your goals. If you fail to pay attention to the wind and do not respond correctly, you risk being knocked way off-course, far from your destination. It may also seem at times that you are heading in the wrong direction, but as long as you stay true to yourself and keep your goals in mind you will eventually achieve your aspirations and find that wherever you end up in life is where you were meant to be all along. – Tyler

On Personal Change

As an individual grows, it is their experiences that shape them into who they are as a person. This experience will undoubtedly be one that I will carry with me throughout the rest of my life. The sights seen and the lessons learned will be instrumental in allowing me to become a better leader, a better person and a better father. – Tyler

Outside of the group atmosphere, the trip was very moving on a personal level. Alone out on the sea gave me time to look inside myself and contemplate where I really was headed in life. I felt a special connection to those islands and the sea down there and a part of me stayed there when I left; a part of me that I’ll return to one day. The culture of the islands infiltrates you when you’re there and life slows down a little bit. You’re no longer concerned with what day it is or what time it is, the only thing that matters is being alive. The smiles on all the locals faces let you know you’re always welcome, and I begin to wonder why anyone would want to live any way else? It’s a state of mind and not just a destination down there.

As the week came to a close I realized it was going to be difficult to leave all this behind. I had made some good friends and done things I never thought I would. I laid in a hammock in the Caribbean sun, hiked an amazing national park, snorkeled among millions of fish and expanded my horizons in food and drink on top of all the sailing. This ranks among one of the greatest and most touching experiences in my life; one that will not soon be forgotten. – Ian


February 17

On Scenery

As we cruised around the Virgin Islands from bay to bay I could not help but be enamored with the beauty of the islands and the sea. The mountainous islands were covered with green bushes and trees with numerous cliffs reaching as high as nearly 100 feet, and rocky shores with many rock formations reaching out of the water. Each island was different from the other in shape and formation but was equal in beauty.

On our voyage across Saint John to the Petroglyphs we encountered nature at its finest around every corner. There were brightly colored caterpillars, giant hermit crabs, tiny lizards, birds, bats, mongoose, wild donkeys (which we never found), goats and deer that were not bothered by our presence in the least. As we marched up and down the mountains, we had spectacular views of the many bays and the surrounding mountains, each one reaching higher and higher into the clouds. – Tyler

On Snorkeling
The water itself is several different shades of blue from a deep navy to a bright turquoise and crystal clear. In many places we could see as far as 30 feet down to the bottom. On our many snorkeling adventures I was continuously amazed with the beauty that lied beneath. I had never seen so many brilliantly colored fish, with bright blues, yellows, greens and reds. There were countless fish, so many that when they surrounded you, you could not see through them.

The marine life I encountered also included two sea turtles, which floated through the water with ease, and a small nurse shark. The many rocks beneath the surface were covered with coral and other marine plants and several sea urchins. We snorkeled into caves as far as we could see and even witnessed a sunken ship.  Viewing the dark, deteriorating ship in the water was an eerie, yet exciting experience.  The beauty of the islands is endless and breath-taking and is something that cannot be explained in words but only through experience. – Tyler


February 16

On Teamwork
Teamwork is something that too many people never truly learn in life. Teamwork consists of collaboration, common purpose, commitment, and communication. This is all required with sailing. Each person on the boat has to communicate effectively and work fluidly together to sail efficiently. Teamwork also requires that each person knows and takes care of their responsibility. It is like poetry when a crew aboard a sailboat are able to trust one another, do their job, communicate, and work together in sync.At first, we were all unsure of ourselves and worked with hesitation, lacking confidence. Add in rough winds and seas and our second day was quite an experience. But as the day and rough sail drug on, we slowly gained confidence as we learned under fire. Through this we learned the importance of teamwork and moving quickly as the captain shouted orders. – Tyler

On Communication
As we were sailing right along one day we encountered a major mishap – we lost the wind and found ourselves “in irons.” As two members switched at the helm, the importance of keeping our angle in the wind was not effectively communicated, so as the wind shifted, changing our angle, we lost it. We sat there dumbfounded as our sails hung without purpose and without wind.In our several attempts to regain the wind, another key lesson was reiterated as we were moving too slowly causing us to move aimlessly in a slow and sloppy manner. It was from this point on that we all truly understood the importance of communicating effectively, moving quickly as directed and working together as a single entity moving to achieve a common goal. – Tyler


February 15

Light House at Buck Island

On Leadership
On the high seas, our leadership abilities were tested. As each of us took turns commanding the helm of the vessel we had to be sure in our decision making as one small error out there could be the difference in life and death. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen out there, we found out. Each of us was in charge of learning a task on the boat and mastering this task was extremely important as it was our job to become the teacher to ensure our shipmates were equally equipped to handle the job. By the end of the week our group was capable of doing any job on the boat and everyone else was confident that they could rely on each other to get their job done.
– Ian

On Character
Our group managed to cruise along on the easy days and pulled it together to brave some of the harshest seas and winds the Caribbean could dish out. This was a character-building exercise in itself, and we stood sturdy on the deck, shivering in the winds as waves crashed over the hulls of the boat. As our destination disappeared in the decreased visibility of the fog, we stood fast as our captain barked orders and got us safely to the security of the next bay. We even managed to overcome the odds when there was no wind and make headway; an art form in itself. – Ian

On Freedom
Sailing was a touching personal experience as I hit the blue water and the wind propelled me, experiencing a freedom like no other. The wind fills your sails and propels you to where ever your heart desires. There are no street lights, maps, road signs, or restraints. It’s just you, the water, wind and salty air. You become a modern day pirate on the open water; a dying breed. I loved every second of open water sailing even when times were tough and the seas were rough.
– Ian


February 12

More than a lesson in sailing, this course was a lesson in life. It was a once in a lifetime chance to leave the comfort of your home and go to a place like no other and live a life most have only dreamed of. To experience a new culture, a new way of life, and an enlightenment that only these islands and sea can provide. Following in the wake of these old pirate trails, our sailing catamaran was our sea chariot to swashbuckling adventure. – Ian

On Learning to Sail
Having absolutely zero experience sailing a vessel of any kind, this was a very humbling experience. I soon realized that sailing is no joke and timing is critical; if something is done improperly or too slow, the result could be disastrous.

When I first set foot on the Caribbean Soul, I knew very little to none of the sailing terminology or the anatomy of the boat. I also had zero knowledge of tying knots. This was my first experience on a sailboat and I was going to have to listen carefully and learn quickly. Like a kid on his first day of school, I was wide-eyed and trying to absorb every bit of information that my brain could handle.

Right off I was taught how to moor the boat and tie a cleat hitch. Knowing how important this responsibility was, I went over the process in my head repeatedly throughout the day and that night … As time progressed on the boat, I slowly transformed from a completely worthless landlubber who knew nothing about sailing to a novice sailor who could somewhat handle themselves on a sailboat. – Tyler

The sea is one of the most powerful forces on earth and we were paired toe to toe with it as we learned the basics, and later advanced techniques of harnessing wind in the art form known as sailing. Nothing comes easy in sailing as our group quickly found out while taking to the sea. Some situations take the patience of a school teacher, while others require the tenacity of the warrior. When done properly, the reward was smooth sailing backed by the clearest water in the world and the most beautiful scenery known to man. – Ian


Day Two

Captain and crew

We set sail to St. John, an island that is 75 percent U.S. National Park. (Go to for more information.)

Civilizations lived on St. John long before the Europeans arrived to the region, as evidenced by the petroglyphs, or rock carvings left by the Taino people. These carvings are found especially on the Reef Bay hiking trail. These people were all but driven into extinction by Europeans in the 17th century seeking new territories as colonial properties.

This day the students hiked to the petroglyphs to discover these civilizations which disappeared long ago. This hike was more than a leisurely walk – it was a time for the students to discover the islands for themselves. They hiked over two mountains and through a tropical forest.

Hiking St. John

Where do we go from here? We will sail east into the British Virgin Islands and to the far side of paradise and back again. In the adventure Tyler, Ian and Dustin will be challenged and discover their limits.

“You know what’s out there? Wind and rain, and some damn big waves, reefs and rocks, sandbars, and enough fog and night to hide it all … So why do it? It builds character … The kind you only find on mountaintops, and deserts, and battlefields, and across oceans.”

I am running out of time and we must set sail to discover a new adventure just over the horizon.

From Paradise,

Ken Ayers


Day One

(from the perspective of Professor Ken Ayers)

We set sail from St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. For the students, this was their first time in the Caribbean and their first time aboard a sailboat. Each arrive wide-eyed and full of anticipation of the adventure that lay before them.

On day one we set sail. Leaving St. Thomas to our stern, we set a heading South by Southeast. With St. Croix to our South and Puerto Rico to the west, we headed out into the Caribbean Sea. Light winds made our first day out easy for the students – there was no sea sickness aboard.

By mid-afternoon we arrived at a small island just south of St. Thomas – Buck Island. We picked up a mooring and settled in for the evening. First on the agenda was teaching two of the three students how to snorkel; within 15 minutes they were off to discover the wonders that are below the crystal clear water, including fish, coral, a sea turtle and an old wreck of a day long ago.

Buck Island is now part of the U.S. National Park service. It is an uninhabited island with a lighthouse, a bird sanctuary and good snorkeling, but the history of the island is a story of human misery. Prior to 1845, this island was named Buck because of the slave trade. St. Thomas, like many large Caribbean Islands, was very active in the business of slave trading. The slave ships would arrive at Buck Island’s natural harbor, unload the male slaves (the bucks) and send the women and children into St. Thomas to be sold while the males were left on Buck Island to be sold later.

As we sat at anchor that evening, we could sense the anguish of the families who had been separated, never to be together again.


Sunset at anchor ...


  1. Sounds like a good idea. We’ll pass your comment and contact info on to him. Thanks!

  2. For Ken Ayers:

    I wonder if we might be able to work with you on a leadership or teamwork program on Colgate 26 sailboats out of Pink Shell Resort, Fort Myers Beach, Florida. I will email you which will give you my contact information.

  3. Tyler Curran says:

    Sailing the Virgin Islands was an amazing experience and one I will not soon forget! I recommend this trip to anyone who truly wants to live life and enjoy the beauty of the Caribbean! And you might actually learn a little about life and sailing along the way! I would do it again in a heartbeat and I hope I have the opportunity to sail on the Caribbean Soul again one day in the future!

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