“I count 14 today! How many do you see?”
As my friend and I looked out across the water from campus, we counted how many sailboats we saw piercing the horizon. Since last week, more and more boats started showing up on the waters around St. Maarten.
Every year during this time, St. Maarten holds the Heineken Regatta, one of the largest boat races in the world. More than 300 yachts and their participants and supporters from all over the world come to the island to compete in a series of races that last for four days on both the Dutch and French sides. The race is an all-island event, complete with festivals, concerts, and street parties.
Following an annual tradition, this year the Phi Chi Medical Fraternity at AUC rented 4 yachts for AUC students to sail, observing the race right outside the track. It’s a great way to see the island and have fun with friends but tickets always sell out fast. Unfortunately this year I did not get a chance to sign up. However, I got to see the Heineken Regatta festivities, as a Red Cross volunteer.
AUC students are known on this island for being very involved in community outreach and volunteering. I first heard about the Heineken Regatta volunteer opportunity from one of my colleagues in class who is active in the Netherlands Red Cross here on St. Maarten. As Arif and I were CPR certified, we both signed up and was excited to check out the festival as well.
The festival has already been going around since the afternoon. When Arif and I arrived at 8pm, the waterfront was packed with people… yachtees, locals, tourists, and other participants. Walking in groups of four, Arif and I and two local Red Cross volunteers patrolled along the boardwalk, carrying a bag of basic medical supplies, making sure no one gets hurt.
There were five stages set up and different bands were playing different types of Caribbean music… salsa, soca, calypso, reggae… There were booths selling food and drinks. As Red Cross Volunteers, we were given free food tokens, which I used to buy some barbecue ribs, a drink, and a Heineken Regatta T-shirt. We patrolled over the next three hours until 11pm, as the crowd got larger and larger. St. Maarten is an island that parties late. Luckily, throughout the night, there were no serious incidents. Free dinner, two free t-shirts, volunteer hours, and a chance to meet locals and see the festival… it was a good experience.