From lemonade stands to sailing group

by Michael Brown

The Youth Sailing Academy Colville have what could best be described as a mobile clubhouse – a handful of tarpaulins draped over some big sticks erected on the beach.

(The Youth Sailing Academy Colville's launch day was two months ago.) 

Their boats are stored in a nearby farmer’s barn and one of their main fundraising projects was selling homemade lemonade down at the local general store.

They might be a little club but they don’t want to be limited by their meagre resources. It’s why the words ‘sailing academy’ were incorporated into the name of their club.

As founder Spike Mountjoy says, “I wanted kids to aspire and believe they could compete in the America’s Cup one day if they were good enough. I wanted it to be something they took seriously.”

The Youth Sailing Academy Colville is New Zealand’s newest sailing group. The idea was first raised seven months ago and they held their open day only two months ago.

Already they can’t cope with the level of interest. They essentially inherited three P-Class boats from the Thames Yacht Club, who modernised their fleet, and have added a couple more along with a 15-foot dinghy and a mini Hobie. Some are also restoring a historic designed John Welsford classic skiff.

“There’s no shortage of interest in what we are doing,” says Mountjoy, who is a self-taught sailor who hitch-hiked his way around the world on boats. “But we’re limited by a shortage of boats. Our life jackets, we had to beg, borrow and steal. We’ve struggled to get enough buoyancy aids, pulleys and shackles.”

Colville is the northern-most town in the Coromandel Peninsula. It has one shop, a volunteer fire brigade, community hall and a school, which all service the remote area home to about 700 people.

The school, which had 31 students at last count, became the focus for the sailing academy. It seemed a natural place to start.

“We are an isolated community so the kids don’t have access to a lot of organised sport,” Mountjoy says. “It’s a beautiful bay but hardly anyone sails here. I grew up here but didn’t learn to sail here. I would have loved to. What was missing was a chance for the kids to learn to go sailing.

“It was so easy to set up. I thought it might have been hard because we have to do everything ourselves around here and people are already giving up so much of their time for volunteer projects. But there were others who had the same idea. We have been lucky and had a huge amount of community support.”

As many as 35 people are now involved in the sailing group. They have about 10 coaches, including one who not only sailed competitively but also coached in England, who take turns to teach the dozen or so kids who turn up each week. More want to go sailing but a lack of equipment means they are restricted in what they can do.

“Pretty much all the kids at school want to do it, which is more than we can handle. We want to grow the club so we don’t have to turn kids away.”

(A lemonade stand helped raise money as they looked to buy a fleet of boats.)

Mountjoy says they’re trying to be as resourceful as possible but would happily accept any old equipment or financial assistance. They have a small fleet of P-Classes – they were originally stored in Mountjoy’s lounge but that would have led to inevitable divorce so found a home in a farmer’s bard – and would love to add some Optimists.

They are also trying to upskill their coaches and last weekend hosted Yachting New Zealand coach development manager Gareth Moore.

“It was unbelievably valuable,” Mountjoy says. “We couldn’t have hoped for more [out of the course]. Most of us are self-taught so we have disparate knowledge. It would be useful for us all to have the same approach.”

It was an equally valuable weekend for Moore – he even jumped on a motorbike to help muster sheep – and he was taken by the community spirit.

“It’s a we-will-make-it-work attitude that you find in Colville,” says Moore, who had to drive around the tip of the Coromandel to get to Colville following Cyclone Debbie's impact on the main coast road during last week’s floods. “People may have heard of ‘island time’. Well, ‘Colville time’ is also a thing. But time doesn’t matter as the very enthusiastic bunch of volunteer coaches of all ages who greet you have got the kids sailing at a good level within only a few weeks in New Zealand’s iconic P-Class.

“These people go out of their way to help the youth of Colville and each other to make sailing happen, and it was awesome to see a community who have next-to-no resources making it work.”

As they have proved, all you need is a couple of tarpaulin, a lemonade stand, a handful of boats and the right attitude.

  • Anyone wanting to donate equipment or money to the Youth Sailing Academy Colville can contact them through their Facebook page here.
10 Apr 2017
11 Apr 2017