A grateful sailor whose custom-made wheelchair was taken from Waitangi jetty is inviting the boys who took it - and the parents who returned it - to join him for a day's sailing.

Chris Sharp, from Opito Bay, near Kerikeri, left his wheelchair on a pontoon on Sunday while coaching disabled sailors. When he returned his chair was gone, leaving him with no way of getting around.

Within hours of friends posting about the theft on social media Mr Sharp was getting offers of help from around the country. It also emerged that two boys, aged about 12 and 14, had been "hooning around" in the wheelchair in a nearby carpark before it disappeared.

That night the boys' parents delivered the chair to the Kaikohe police station, saying they thought it had been stolen and dumped before the boys found it. They declined to give their names.


In the meantime Mr Sharp went to Auckland to pick up an old wheelchair he had in storage. He returned home on Thursday to collect the recovered chair from police.

Mr Sharp said his invitation to the boys and their parents to join him for a day with the Bay of Islands Yacht Club was genuine.

"We'd treat them like kings ... No matter how they got their hands on it, they brought it back. I'd love to take them out on the water. It will also give them a new perspective on what disabled people can do."

Mr Sharp said he couldn't put a value on the chair, which was his ticket to freedom after he lost the use of his legs in a motorcycle crash eight years ago.

Last year the 59-year-old started the Northland branch of Sailability, an organisation that teaches disabled people sailing. As a result of publicity around the wheelchair incident he had been contacted by a Paihia man who had lost the use of his legs through a rare illness but had now joined his sailing programme.

Another positive spin-off was experiencing the power of social media when people felt an injustice had been done.

"It highlights how the community feels about looking after its own members. It's magic. You're not alone," he said.

Mr Sharp went straight back to coaching on Thursday and left his wheelchair in exactly the same spot on Waitangi jetty.

"I'm not going to change. The community has been very cool about looking after my stuff. The people who took it simply didn't understand."

Acting Sergeant Mark Roberts, of Mid North police, said the return of the wheelchair - like returning property stolen from German backpackers two weeks earlier - was the best part of his job.

• If you are the parents who returned the chair, or you are disabled and want to learn sailing, contact Mr Sharp on sharpaz@hotmail.co.nz or 021 617 420.