School kids in Tonga are getting a hand to learn to sail, thanks to the generosity of Northlanders.
The Ōpua Business Association is just about ready to send a fleet of Optimists (Optis) sailing dinghies to the Va'vau Bluewater School in Neiafu, Tonga, a gift designed to share the joy and love of sailing and make a difference for the young people there.
The idea has been championed by Bruce Fuller, from Seapower, a long-time member of the OBA.
His initial idea was that association members would obtain and refurbish old sailing dinghies, branding them with their company logos and send them to Neiafu.
Then the project really got traction when the Kerikeri Cruising Club upgraded its learn to sail boats, and gifted seven Opti hulls to the OBA.
The boats needed significant maintenance and refurbishment, but the association pulled out all the stops, and with help from the Bay of Islands Boatyard team the hulls were sanded and painted.
Keen local yachtie Jeff (Stubbie) Knewstubb donated his time to reassemble the boats, while local sailmakers - North Sails, Doyle Sails and Wills Sailmakers - co-operated to provide the sailcloth, cut and stitch the sails, then add sponsors' signwriting.
Cater Marine donated much of the required hardware, with other members of the OBA sponsoring new rigs.
Fundraising activities with cruisers at the annual Blue Water Festival in Va'vau paid for the purchase of a container, which Bay of Islands Boat Storage supplied at cost. It will transport the Optis to Tonga and will stay on the waterfront in Neiafu as a storage facility and base for the sailing school.
Greg Just, from Cafe Tropicana in Neiafu, an expat New Zealander living in Va'vau, runs the Blue Water School, a no-cost programme that teaches water safety and skills, and will ensure the local kids get to enjoy the boats.
Now the association is turning its attention to raising the funds to ship the container to Va'vau.
It intends to stage a fundraising event as part of the Ōpua Cruisers festival in November, and any organisation that would like to provide a donation would be very much appreciated.