Posted on May 04, 2018
Sailing can be so fulfilling and foster such a sense of accomplishment so to have children from low decile schools exposed to the sport that is known to have lifetime benefits is a huge achievement.
Today, a Friday in early May, is almost a rare event – a dry sunny day with light winds.  At 9am today, 24 more students headed down to Orakei Marina in Auckland’s Okahu Bay for a day of learning that will provide an insight into a new world of opportunity.  They used the ramp in front of the Auckland Sailing Club.
Of these 24 students may be as many as three might have had some previous contact with boats and most would have few water skills such as swimming.
The day itself is organised and run by the “Have A Go” Sailing Program which is run by Yachting New Zealand on a National basis.  The opportunity for these students to participate comes about thanks to St Johns Rotary led by member Gary Key who understood the immeasurable benefits of students experiencing something new with multi-faceted outcomes.  The club started a few years ago with three low-decile primary schools taking part and now there are 12 schools involved with 288 students participating over three weeks this year.
The ‘sailing season’ for the “Have A Go” programme is usually October to April.  However, with such a large group of schools and because, possibly because of climate change, there seems to have been a continuation of milder weather into May the Go Sailing programme meaning it has been possible to run the programme in May.
Back to today’s sailing.  Health and Safety is a huge part of the organisation and “Have A Go” organise all of this.  They have both their North Island equipment trailers at Orakei and in addition to the Opti yachts there are three inflatable RIBS that will be out on the water when the students are sailing.
On arrival the excited students are given a briefing on the day and a safety briefing before being issued with wetsuits, a jacket and a lifejacket with instruction on why and how these work. The H&S aspect is so comprehensive there is even suntan for the students to use.
Throughout the day a big aspect of the instruction is aimed to build the confidence of the students in the water and how to be safe in and around water and on the boats.  Then they move onto becoming familiar with all aspects of the Opti sailing boat with some basics on how the boat relates to its environment in terms of everything from the wind to the weather.
Then the hands-on part happens with the students rigging their own boats.  “This looks like our chopping board at home”.  “No, it is a centreboard”.
Then onto the water with instructors in the RIBs in close proximity.  Students soon get the hang of at least some semblance of control and it is amazing how quickly some get into trying to beat each other to the next mark.
Sailing is a great way to appreciate the outdoors while learning new skills.  It is terrific exercise and so much fun as clearly evidenced by the laughter and enthusiasm of the students.  After all, who wouldn’t respond with joy to white sails billowing against a clear sky, the feel of the breeze on your face, and the gentle motions of the boat as it cleanly slices through the water!
This initiative of St Johns Rotary was a natural extension of the success of the St Johns Rotary Youth Yachting Scholarship of whom some of the Awardees have gone through the “Have A Go” programme and are now internationally renowned competitive sailors.  Yesterday some of the attendees of the World Sailing Symposium visited the programme and from that came two outcomes; firstly, some will be taking the Go Sailing programme back to their countries as a concept to consider and secondly some were unaware of Rotary and what Rotary does and are keen to learn more with a view of building some future cooperation between sailing and Rotary in their community.
For the students this is a wonderful day and they returned to school by 2pm.  The world of sailing is totally new to them and they gain so much from the experience with some going onto continued involvement thanks to the programme.  For the parents, they are incredibly grateful that their children have had such a different and for many, an otherwise unattainable experience.
The programme for this group of schools is funded by donations from Orakei Marine (who run the Orakei Marina), Chenery Trust, and a District 9920 Grant.  Thanks to Gary Key and Gavin Gilmer who have been there as the Rotary presence each day and for the days to come.