Sunday, 31 May 2020


“Learning the ropes” on board Windborne

Senior Mercury Bay youth sailors Troy Aickin, Josie Fairweather, and sisters Tinca and Kizzy Samson were fortunate to be invited to join Avon Hansford on board his classic schooner, Windborne, last week for a day of “learning the ropes.” Avon and Mercury Bay Boating Club youth sailing coordinator, Jonathan Kline had been speaking about how to continue the development of the club’s older youth sailors once they have completed the standard learn to sail dinghy courses. 

Racing is one of the options the club’s youth sailing coaches are fostering, but the coaches also want the young sailors to get a sense of how many other options exist in the marine industry. Last week, as Avon and Jonathan were chatting at the Whitianga Wharf, Avon suggested that perhaps some of the senior youth sailors might benefit from an informal “apprenticeship” on board Windborne, where the students not only learned about sailing a classic schooner, but also learned how to assist passengers, how to be helpful and safe while docking in and docking out, how to clean the deck and square away before and after sailing and any other routine duties common aboard all ships. With only two weeks left in the charter season, Jonathan quickly contacted the parents of the senior youth sailors and arranged a schedule for the last week of the school holidays.

“This was a unique opportunity for our senior squad to step outside themselves and work with a master mariner who knows his boat and this coastline so well,” saidJonathan.  “Now that these youth sailors are competent at single-handing their dinghies, they can learn how to be part of a crew, with paying guests on board. Though we were only able to arrange a few sessions before the end of Windborne’s charter season, we plan to reignite this initiative once the warmer weather returns in the spring and summer. Imagine the thrill for these kids, stepping from a Starling or a Micron on to the majestic Windborne, and not as passengers, but as working apprentices.”

Windborne is a gaff-rigged topsail schooner, built in England in 1928. She is 20m long and is described by her owner as a “vessel of great character, charm, and strength.”

There are no electric winches. All of the raising and lowering of the sails, as well as sheeting and easing is done by hand or with the help of manual drum winches. 

The winds were light on the days that the older youth sailors docked out, but Avon still managed to set all six sails, leaving the passengers and the young crew wide-eyed with excitement. All of the apprentices got a chance to take the helm, but they also assisted with guest duties, trimming and keeping a look out. “We were anchored near Mahurangi Island when Captain Avon showed us how to climb the ratlines to the first set of cross trees,” Tinca said as soon as the yacht was back at the Whitianga Wharf. “I looked down and I could see right through the water to the bottom. The sea was so clear. I felt like I was in Fiji!”

On Troy and Josie’s voyage, the weather was clear and calm. But on the day that Tinca and Kizzy shipped out, the crew and guests had to endure a period of heavy rain and thunderstorms, followed by brilliant sunshine. The rapid changes in weather conditions and how to make the best of those conditions are two of the many lessons the young apprentices would have learned on their day at sea.

“My passengers enjoyed watching the young crew run around hauling sails and climbing up the rigging, after I had shown them how to be safe,” Avon said. “At Mahurangi Island, the junior sailors had a swim with my guests and then helped with the coffee and biscuits. They even showed our German visitors how to eat feijoas.”

Any fears the older youth sailors might have had prior to sailing disappeared very quickly under Avon’s guidance. “One of the biggest lessons I teach is that if kids are unsure how to carry out the instructions I give, then they must ask for an explanation,” he said. “I will always show them exactly what I want them to do and how to do it.”

From the beaming grins that Jonathan witnessed upon the return of Windborne each day, it would seem that the youth sailors learned a great deal and enjoyed the challenges and successes of their day at sea on a classic schooner. “This is just another example of how our community members support Mercury Bay youth sailing,” said Jonathan. “We are grateful that Captain Avon is so willing to share his knowledge and pass on his skills to our local junior sailors.”

Pictured: Mercury Bay Boating Club youth sailing coordinator, Jonathan Kline, his son Noah,senior youth sailors Troy Aickin and Josie Fairweather, and Josie’s mother,Rose, on board Windborne last week.


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