They arrived in Auckland last Monday as strangers with the common goal to grow as young leaders and learn about the crisis confronting our oceans.
They departed the City of Sails on Friday as friends, armed with more knowledge to tackle the environmental challenges in their yachting communities.
That was the recurring theme from the Blake Inspire for Sailors class of 2023 after their five-day environmental leadership adventure co-hosted by Blake NZ and Yachting New Zealand.
As part of this year’s initiative, 21 young sailors from as far afield as Whangārei in the north to Wakatipu in the south, spent two-and-a-half days on board Lion New Zealand, exploring the Hauraki Gulf including Tiritiiri Matangi, and learning more about Predator Free 2050.
Back on dry land, the team – led by Blake NZ’s head of programmes Jacob Anderson and Yachting NZ education lead Natalia Groom – toured the Emirates Team New Zealand base, discovered New Zealand's underwater landscape in virtual reality, visited AUT Millennium’s high performance facilities and participated in a sustainability and sailing leadership panel discussion featuring environmental artist and Sir Peter Blake's daughter Sarah-Jane Blake, renowned sailing adventurer Alistair Moore, and leading Kiwi sailors Erica Dawson and George Gautrey.
On Friday, they also presented environmental action plans to implement at their clubs, and their submissions didn't disappoint.
“Some of those action plans were really awesome. We could definitely see a few leaders coming through with a strong sustainability focus to implement within their club and their community," Groom said.
For Anderson, the group's passion was noticeable.
"They all come from different backgrounds but for every one of them there is a piece of the marine environment or the marine industry that really captured their interest."
Sailing on board the iconic Lion New Zealand was a highlight for many – with not even Auckland’s wild weather early last week able to dampen the mood.
“The sailing was epic – even in the storm – and being able to make so many new friends and learn so much were some of the best parts of the week for me,” said Ngaroto Sailing Club’s Emma Drinkwater.
Harris Coubrough (Heretaunga Boating Club) agreed: "I really loved talking to our panel of guests on Thursday night - and, of course, getting the chance to helm the Lion New Zealand!”
The impact of climate change on our ocean was an eye-opener for many, as was sailing’s role in combating it.
“What stood out for me is how big an issue climate change really is but also how much there is we can do about it,” said Cambridge Yacht and Motorboat Club member Kheesa Rahman.
“Everything I’ve learned here has been so constructive and I had no idea how big the sailing industry is”.
“I've learned how amazing sailing is as a way to encourage people to care about the environment and use that influence to get people invested in our amazing big blue backyard," said Howick Sailing Club’s Lucy Blyth.
Eoin McGlynn travelled all the way from Queenstown and said he had been preparing for the programme for much of the past year.
“Being a young environmentalist can sometimes feel quite isolating, so sharing this experience and being able to connect with 20 other people my age with a shared love for sailing and a passion for the environment was the most valuable for me.”
Devonport Yacht Club’s Mukai Duder has a message for those young sailors and budding environmentalists considering applying for next year’s programme: “Take the opportunity and make the most of it – even if that means pushing yourself into experiences that you might not otherwise feel comfortable in.
“I know I certainly wasn’t comfortable in the 40kn of wind and rain we had on board Lion New Zealand but to have the opportunity to really immerse myself in Te Taiao was a big takeaway for me. After all, it is incumbent on us to create change and improve our natural world.”