An emotional seven-month circumnavigation of New Zealand is over for American solo sailor Elana Connor, who sailed into Auckland's Princes Wharf yesterday, accompanied by a flotilla of yachts and waka.
A former foster child, her seven-month voyage was to raise funds for New Zealand teenagers in care.
The journey was a change of tack after her goal to sail around the globe was interrupted by Covid-19 and she found herself stuck in Tauranga.
Elana Connor has raised approximately $43,000 to enable teenagers to experience Spirit of Adventure - a 10-day experience that she describes as life-changing and inspiring.
The Spirit of Adventure Trust sailing programmes are partly funded by trainee fees and special sailings like Connor's. Other sources of funding come from grants, sponsorships, donations, bequests and public appeals.
Connor told Morning Report the programme had been life-changing for young people. Offering the opportunity to those teenagers was what drove her through the tougher moments of her voyage, she said, but the memory of her grandmother played its role too.
"I think in the back of my mind at all times was my grandmother," she said.
"Although I couldn't live with her she always encouraged me, told me I should go after my dreams and believed in me. She passed away during Covid while I was apart from her. I always had her spirit driving me forward to make sure these young people here understand that they are amazing, they're believed in and they are worthy of support.
"That kept me going - her advocacy for me, and also my belief in these young people I've met around the country."
Her journey involved her doing a "figure of eight" circumnavigation around the country, passing through the Cook Strait twice, which was not without its challenges.
"Our first journey through it was a bit scary and our second one was fairly mellow, but still the currents and weather make it a tricky place to navigate. The same was true down in Fiordland."
She had a pet dog on board, but they were soon accompanied by a rat that swam over and chewed its way through the screen of a light and into the boat at New Plymouth. It then stowed away for three weeks. It posed its own challenges.
"It was three weeks of just mess and disaster. It chewed through wiring on my boat and made quiet a mess but eventually I got rid of it and haven't seen anything of it in a couple of weeks."
She still hopes to circumnavigate the globe solo, and although Covid-19 travel restrictions put those plans on hold, it has also made her all the more determined.
Her skills and ambition are all the more remarkable considering she was only introduced to sailing seven years ago, after getting the opportunity to sail in the Mediterranean. The ocean is now her life.
"I feel the ocean gives me everything. It gives me more self-confidence, it gives me strength, it gives me peace and joy. That's really what I want to pass on to these young people through these voyages, giving them the same opportunities I had on the water."
She said she would be in Auckland for at least the next two weeks to fundraise further. She has already travelled around the country visiting schools, youth organisations and yacht clubs, spreading the word about the initiative.
"We are definitely looking for any organisation interested in bringing kids down to the yacht to check it out, or having us come down and talk to them about our mission."