Annie Avery Gardner


By - Nancy Terrell


"If you get kids off to a good start, the rest of their life will follow," is the philosophy of Annie Avery Gardner who has contributed forty-one years of her life in teaching children to love the water in the Virgin Islands.  Annie has a thorough background in swimming and sailing.  Her parents, Cal and Louise Avery, were always active in watersports and first aid.  They met in 1931 at the 1st American Red Cross Boat and Canoe School in the U.S. in the days of gaff rigged Old Town Canoes. Louise was the instructor - Cal the student.  After marriage a year later, the two devoted their lives to running homes for parentless children in New York, teaching them to swim and sail.  

The Avery children loved the water also.  Dick, founder of Avery's Boat House and champion USVI sailor, was the first child and learned to sail at the age of four.  Annie arrived several years later. Summers were spent camping where sailing, swimming and canoeing were just a part of life.

Annie started teaching sailing at Camp Vega in Maine in 1956.  "I taught for the American Red Cross, as an aide and then an instructor.  I attended Bard College near Rhinebeck, New York, where my father was on the Administrative Faculty.  Both of  my parents were American Red Cross Water Safety & First Aid Instructors so both Dick and I were certified at appropriate ages.  In 1957 Dick moved to St. Thomas to start a bareboat charter company.  He also worked at the Caribbean Beach Hotel.  I went to St. Thomas and worked with him at the hotel.  After another semester back at Bard I returned to St. Thomas and have lived in the islands ever since."

Annie continued her love of sailing, chartering Rhodes 18s for day sails.  She married Marty Clarke, a well known entertainer in the V.I and daughter Heather was born in 1961 - it was only natural that she learned to swim before she could walk.  Heather now lives in the BVI with her husband, Ewan Anderson - crew on Rushin Rowlette - Best BVI Boat at the BVI Spring Regatta 2000.  Annie's grandsons Alec and Sean have inherited their grandmother's love of the water and are both excellent sailors and swimmers.

Annie started teaching sailing at the St. Thomas Yacht Club and at Magens Bay in 1963.  She tells me, " We used Sailfish, Prams and eventually Sunfish.  My youngest student was my nephew, Morgan Avery, who was 4 at the time and raced this year with Chris Rosenberg on Frenchman's Reef in the CORT Series.  Morgan has also crewed professionally with Peter Holmberg for years all over the world.  As an instructor/trainer for the Red Cross, I started a Learn to Swim Program with 120 children.  Five years later the program had grown to 500 children and was run by graduates of the original program.  I also taught Underwater Demolition Team Members, U.S. Navy Seals and Marine Recons, National Park Lifeguards, police & fireman and Boy & Girl Scouts to become instructors."

After moving to the BVI in '72, Annie began teaching sailing at the BVIYC.  Through the years her students have included: Robbie Hirst (Atlanta Olympics); Hastings Grant (Cable & Wireless); Chris Haycraft (#1 in racing/cruising in CORT); Aragon Dick Reid (builder of Gli-Gli a Carib Canoe featured in National Geographic); Matt Arneborg (Seoul Olympics in windsurfing) and Laurens Blok (Marine Studies Program at the H. Lavity Stoutt College, BVI) among many others.  

As Vice Commodore more than 300 children learned how to sail in the Junior Sailing Program she established. " We averaged 30-40 students every Saturday, from all over the island, using 11 Sunfish and never turned anyone away."  In the 80s Annie's focus changed. She married Mick Gardner, of White Squall II and the William Thornton Restaurant, and began teaching large group swimming lessons for the Ladies Club and the Sports Division of the BVI government."  Her teaching now is totally on a volunteer level, primarily babies.

She is supportive of Alison Knights and Colin Bramble, instructors at the yacht club with the Optimist Program, where her grandsons learned and are now on the RBVI Yacht Club Youth Sailing Team.  "They will be competing in the Optimist Regatta in June in St. Thomas.  If all goes well, and we can raise the funds, the BVI sailing team will be in Spain during July having been invited to participate in the World Optimist Regatta for the first time."

Annie is indeed a woman of all seasons.  Swimming and sailing in the BVI would not have been the same without her.  Her life has made a difference and is a beacon for all of her students to follow - and from the looks of it - they are!