Saturday, 04 July 2020


Special kids make for a special day’s sailing

A contribution by Jonathan Kline, Mercury Bay Boating Club

Over two days in the last week of the school year, volunteers from the Mercury Bay Boating Club and learning support coordinator from Mercury Bay Area School, Karen Johansen, together with her team of helpers, hosted water safety and sailing training for a group of special needs students. 

This marks the second year of this initiative, with all six students who attended in 2018 returning, together with one new student joining for the first time. On the first day, with a stiff southerly whipping up the bay, we made the decision that it was too windy to sail but forged ahead with the preparatory steps all sailors need to follow – personal care and proper dress and equipment checks.  It was quite a scene as our sailors slapped sunscreen on, attacked their mid-morning snacks, and struggled – as we all do – with tight wetsuits, kindly provided by Dive Zone, Whitianga. The whole squad then enjoyed the walk from the Boating Club down to the slightly calmer waters closer to Brophy’s Beach, where several Hobie Cats were staged for the training.  Those who sailed with us last year remembered how to sit, where to hold on, and what to expect when on the water.  Charlotte, our newest recruit, is blind and she had to practice these skills for the first time.  “How do I know where the boat ends? I’m afraid of falling off,” she asked, driving home the most obvious concern of hers that I had not even considered. 

“Charlotte,” I asked, “do you feel the wind?” “Yes,” she said confidently. “Point in the direction it is coming from.” Now the answer to this question may seem obvious to adults, but most of the kids we coach are not able to identify wind direction at first. In a group of six, every hand will point to a different point on the compass. Charlotte raised her arm confidently and pointed to the North East, her limb perfectly in line with the Hobie Cat boom that she could not see, which clearly confirmed the NE wind. 

“The boat ends here,” I said, showing her how large these Hobie Cat trampolines are. “We won’t let you fall off.”

Jakob, Kieran, Reuben, Paige, Indy and Ashley all took their turns, but needed little coaching as they were all graduates of last year’s course. With the beach training complete, we all took to the water which by then was rough with wind and waves.  But with their wetsuits on, the kids quickly realised how much fun it is to gambol in surf.

On our second training day, we were blessed with a calmer sea and light winds. Skippers and crew pushed their waka into the sea, sails filled and our small flotilla was off.  Charlotte, who was still very anxious, relaxed as the sounds of the waves vanished, replaced instead by the calm silence of sail.  Before we had completed our first leg, Charlotte asked, “Can I come back and do this again next year?” 

The skippers manoeuvred their boats into a tight formation, so that the students could not only see each other but also speak to each other, including words of encouragement from Paige - “You are doing so well, Charlotte” met with “You are my best friend, Paige.” The day ended back at the clubroom for cake and hot chips. John Jackman, who was at the helm of his Hobie named Black and White, spoke for all of the skippers when, after being formally thanked by the students for taking them sailing, he rightfully observed, “Thanks for giving us the perfect excuse to get out on the water.” 

Congratulations Indy Catran, Kieran Clayton, Jakob Topp, Ashley Cox, Reuben Davis, Paige McPherson and Charlotte Jamieson. You all rock!

Pictured: The coaches, crew, students and support team who took part in Mercury Bay Boating Club’s water safety and sail training programme for students with special needs.


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