R Tucker Thompson Sail Training Trust and Parent to Parent have created a unique programme for a group of Northland teenagers. Reporter Jenny Ling finds out what makes this voyage so special.
For Northland teen Anika Van Bergenhenegouwen, setting sail on a week-long voyage around the Bay of Islands turned out to be better than she imagined.
The 16-year-old shares a lot of responsibility for her younger sister Rhianne, who has an intellectual disability similar to autism.
But while aboard the R Tucker Thompson on a youth voyage last year, the Whangārei resident not only made new friends and conquered a few fears, she gained valuable insight into the challenges her sister faces on a daily basis.
Mum Karen Devine said Anika "had a ball".
"She got to do adventurous activities that she wouldn't usually get the chance to do," Devine said.
"It also made her realise what it was like for her sister, all those things that are scary for her.
"Climbing up the rigging of the ship was the equivalent of climbing up a set of stairs for her sister."
Anika said she met many new people on the voyage and being in a confined space helped boost her communication skills. She enjoyed other parts of the "challenging environment" and even overcame her fear of heights.
Though she loves her sister, she admits she "doesn't have a normal sibling life".
"It's difficult to have adventurous activities when your sibling can't," Anika said.
"It does affect some opportunities because I have to make sure she is ok so I do miss out on a few things.
"It's a good time for myself to have an experience that doesn't revolve around my sister.
"And it's good to go on a ship with people who have the same experiences as you; you automatically have something in common. It's a good starting ground."
This year the R Tucker Thompson Sail Training Trust has joined forces with Parent to Parent, a nationwide charity that has been supporting families raising Kiwi kids with disabilities for more than 35 years.
The organisations have created a tailor-made voyage programme for Northland teenagers who have a disabled sibling.
It leaves Opua on September 18 with 11 trainees aged between 13 and 18 on board, along with four crew members and a programme facilitator.
Depending on the weather and sea conditions, it may sail as far as the Cavalli Islands and Whangaroa, or south to Mimiwhangata.
A typical day starts with an early morning swim, followed by cleaning the brass and scrubbing the decks.
Daily lessons include safety at sea, navigation and passage planning, and the trainees also get a practical sailing lesson where they learn the lines and manage the sails.
This customised voyage will also include three 90-minute workshops aimed at addressing the unique challenges experienced as brothers and sisters of disabled children.
Other activities include hiking, diving, swimming, rowing, climbing the rigging, riding the bowsprit, helping in the galley and participation in conservation.
Games are played throughout the seven-day voyage, including Māori traditional games, with a focus on team building and problem solving.
By the end of the trip on September 24, the teens are able to sail the ship home with minimal or no help from the crew.
Parent to Parent Northland regional coordinator Don Martin - who works with families affected by disability from Te Hana to Cape Reinga – said siblings can experience a range of challenges in their day-to-day lives from feelings of isolation and anxiety to coping with bullying.
"The brothers and sisters of children with disabilities often miss out on the experiences many of us take for granted," he said.
"This sibling voyage will help develop resilience, build peer support and teach leadership skills to this group of extraordinary teens as they sail around the beautiful Bay of Islands.
"They'll build long-lasting relationships and the workshops will give them the opportunity to talk about their feelings and what they think about having a brother or a sister with a health issue and how it impacts on their lives.
"The main thing is they understand they're not alone and there are other kids in the same situation."
Parent to Parent's sibling programmes feature a range of activities including camps, workshops and other events throughout Aotearoa each year.
However, providing a similar programme for Te Tai Tokerau residents had its own challenges, Martin said.
"The alternative concept of a youth voyage for these siblings gained momentum when we realised that our smaller population size and further distances to travel for families meant that running a similar camp in Northland wouldn't be feasible.
"For me, a key measurement of success is not only the number of siblings who participate, but ensuring that families and whānau can access our activities regardless of their financial situation, or where they live in Te Tai Tokerau."
R Tucker Thompson's youth programme coordinator Pauline Moretti said the trust was thrilled to be hosting the trip.
"Parent to Parent's aims sit well with our kaupapa and what we're aiming to achieve with young people through our youth development voyages, like building resilience, team work and confidence."