Saturday, 21 September 2019

WHITIANGA WEATHER

Messages of hope from Whitianga

Nine students and three adults from Mercury Bay travelled to Auckland last Sunday to participate in the departure ceremony for the yacht Maiden, the recently refitted Whitbread Round the World boat. The boat is currently on a global tour, advocating girl’s education and welfare. 

The Maiden burst onto the world sailing stage almost three decades ago. In 1989/1990, 27-year-old Tracy Edwards assembled a group of British women who were determined to compete in the exclusively male dominated Whitbread Round the World race, a gruelling year-long event covering nearly 30,000 nautical miles. At the time, there had never been a women’s team. In fact, only a few women had ever sailed in the race and when they did (as in Tracy’s case in the 1985/1986 race) they participated as cooks and helpers, not racing sailors. 

Tracy changed all that. With sponsorship from King Hussein I, the King of Jordan, the all-women team refitted a retired BOC Around the World boat and made the deadline to enter the race. They were mocked by the media and much of the sailing community. Naysayers asserted that the crew would perish or be forced to retire before the end of the first leg. 

This did not happen. In fact, the team went on to win two of the six legs, placing second in their class, the best finish by a British team in the history of the event - past and present. The Maiden crew proved to a male-dominated sailing world that girls with big dreams, unyielding determination and a Herculean work ethic can achieve the impossible. 

Today women make up a good percentage of the team members aboard high-performance racing yachts. In the 2017/2018 Round the World race, 17 women were on the crew lists. For the first time in history, every yacht had women on board. 

The recently refurbished Maiden is now sailing with a new mission - to raise awareness and generate funding for girls’ education through The Maiden Factor Foundation, a newly established charity. According to the foundation’s website, 130 million girls around the world are currently denied an education and studies show that with 12 years of education, girls can change their futures, their communities and the world. 

The Maiden Factor’s mottos include “Anything is possible” and “Educate a girl and change the world.” The foundation has captivated the imagination of boys as well as girls. “The world of humanity has two wings,” wrote Abdu’l-Bahá (a former head of the Bahá’i faith). “One is women and the other men. Not until both wings are equally developed can the bird fly. Should one wing remain weak, flight is impossible.”

The Maiden will make approximately 29 stopovers during her circumnavigation.  At each port, members of The Maiden Factor’s liaison team work with local teachers and students to share the powerful Maiden story. Students are invited to contribute to a virtual message board using a “Message of Hope” template provided by the liaison team. The actual messages are harvested and placed into a special vessel, which travels with the Maiden from port to port.

It was only last month that Mercury Bay Area School teacher, Rose Mahon, together with Mercury Bay Boating Club (MBBC) youth sailing coaches, Fred Acke and Jonathan Kline, invited the liaison team of The Maiden Factor to give a presentation at the Mercury Bay Boating Club. Greg and Kaia Bint presented a slide show about the original Maiden voyage and the new initiatives that the boat now represents. The club’s junior sailors were so enthusiastic that Greg invited a small group to travel to Auckland to take part in the departure ceremony. 

In the days that followed, Rose Mahon brought elements of the Maiden’s mission into her classroom. “Even in New Zealand, many girls and boys do not have access to equity in education,” Rose said. “Therefore, as an educator I feel quite strongly about empowering girls to reach their potential and for boys to be respectful and supportive. The Maiden is the perfect vessel to encourage this thinking.”

And so, just a few weeks later, nine students from Mercury Bay Area School and Whenuakite School found themselves on the docks at Market Square in Auckland’s Viaduct Basin. The yachts Maiden, Lion of New Zealand and Steinlager 2 were all berthed together.  Photographers and shore crew were busy making final preparations. The master of ceremonies called the crowd to order. Junior MBBC sailor and MBAS Te Reo Māori student, Annabelle Kline, was invited onto the stage to perform a karakia. The Maiden Factor founder and CEO, Tracy Edwards, stood near the front, joined by the Maiden crew and invited guests. For the occasion, local Whitianga resident, Maddie Johnson, offered Annabelle a replica of a kiwi feather korowai, loaned to her by Te Puna Reo o Whitianga. “I gave Annabelle my blessing and aroha,” says Maddie. “For her to stand tall and deliver the sacred words.” 

On the stage, alone, with what she later described as “butterflies churning in my stomach,” Annabelle looked out into the crowd, took a breath and offered the karakia, flawlessly, first in Māori and then in English.

Whakataka te hau ki te uru      

Whakataka te hau kit e tonga  

Kia mākinakina ki uta                 

Kia mātaratara ki tai                   

E hī ake an ate atakura              

He tio, he huka, he hau hū        

Tīhei mauri ora!                           

Cease the winds from the west

Cease the winds from the south

Let the breeze blow over the land

Let the breeze blow over the ocean

Let the red-tipped dawn come with a sharpened air.

A touch of frost, a promise of a glorious day

Tracy then spoke about her 1989/1990 Whitbread experiences, especially the stopover in Auckland. “We arrived at 1:00am, first in the fleet,” she said. “We were told that everyone had gone home, but when we sailed in, there were 14,000 people gathered on the docks to see us cross the finish line. We found out later they had gone home, but they came back.”  

The current Maiden crew joined Tracy to share their messages, how they had been inspired by Tracy and how they too now wanted to inspire the next generation. 

Last to speak were a group of junior sailing girls from the Christchurch area who had flown up in the morning to take part in the ceremony. They thanked Tracy for her courage and presented the Maiden crew with a palm woven basket - filled with shells, flowers and pounamu - to be offered to King Neptune when the yacht crosses the equator on her way from New Zealand to Hawaii. 

For the last portion of the shore ceremony, the guests gathered next to the Maiden. MBAS students, Troy Aickin, Hannah Hardy, Josie Fairweather and Caitlin Klouwens, held the vessel filled with messages of hope, including messages from Whitianga, out to the Maiden crew.

For the Maiden’s arrival in and departure from Auckland, the New Zealand Sailing Trust provided two iconic yachts to take students and guests out to sea to welcome and bid the Maiden farewell. The Whitianga team was on board Lion of New Zealand, which joined Maiden and Steinlager 2 for some beautiful synchronized sailing out of the Waitemata Harbour towards Rangitoto Island. MBBC youth sailing coach, Tara Corley, later said, “All our sailors got a chance to take the helm and help ‘grind’ the big sheet winches for the genoa. None had ever been on a yacht of this size, let alone steered one.” 

The day was filled with remarkable highlights, underscored by the gracious welcome extended by Tracy and her team. “The best part for me was meeting Tracy Edwards, the first famous person I have ever met,” said Whenuakite School student, Kizzy Samson. MBAS student, Olivia McDonald, was thrilled to be able to speak to the Maiden crew about their jobs. Her brother, Sam, said, “The best part for me was that moment of the final farewell. I felt like I was part of something special.” 

Everyone longed for the moment to continue. But when the Maiden took the left-hand turn to the north to pass between North Head and Rangitoto Island, the flotilla honked and waved their final goodbyes. The Maiden sailed on, carrying messages of hope, including messages from Whitianga, to the rest of the world.

The New Zealand Sailing Trust is a Non-Profit Charitable Trust providing adventurous youth development sailing journeys for young people between the ages of 13 and 22. The trust operates two iconic Whitbread Round the World yachts - Lion of New Zealand and Steinlager 2. Both are used to provide experiences for young New Zealanders that bring to life the values of leadership, courage and teamwork, build awareness and engender conservation of our marine environment, and preserve the legacy of the significant sailing vessels of Sir Peter Blake and his crews. The programmes aboard these yachts provide young people the opportunity to be challenged by pushing their boundaries and demanding the best of their capabilities, be it physically, mentally and emotionally. Learn more about the New Zealand Sailing Trust at www.nzsailingtrust.com.

Pictured: The Mercury Bay students and adults who travelled to Auckland last Sunday to participate in the departure ceremony for the yacht Maiden, the recently refitted Whitbread Round the World boat. Back, from the left - Josie Fairweather, Hannah Hardy, Caitlin Klouwens, Greg Bint (The Maiden Factor Foundation liaison team member) and Mercury Bay Boating Club youth sailing coach Jonathan Kline. Front, from the left - The Maiden Factor founder and CEO Tracy Edwards, Annabelle Kline, Olivia McDonald, Kizzy Samson, Tinca Samson, Sam McDonald, Troy Aickin, MBAS teacher Rose Mahon and Mercury Bay Boating Club youth sailing coach Tara Corley. Photo by Mackenna Edwards-Mair.

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The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.