Back to top anchor
Close main menu
Open main menu Close main menu
Lion New Zealand

Lion New Zealand makes special voyage

Issue date

The significance might have been lost on most of the youngsters as they cast off from the docks, but for those involved with the NZ Sailing Trust today marked a special day.

Lion New Zealand went on its first major voyage since its long-awaited refit, taking a bunch of year 9 school children from Pinehurst School up to Whangarei.

It wasn't hard to notice the boat as she sat proudly in Auckland's Viaduct Harbour and she was equally immaculate down below.

"We are really, really happy with the result," NZ Sailing Trust chief executive Paul Powney says as he sit on the deck of Lion New Zealand before she sets sail. "She's looking amazing."

The refit took 18 months at Yachting Developments and was so extensive Lion New Zealand is virtually a new boat, complete with a new keel, new mast, new sails and new paint job.

It was the first major restoration since Lion New Zealand was launched by Sir Peter Blake in 1984 in preparation for the 1985/86 Whitbread Round the World Race, which she eventually came second in.

Lion New Zealand picked up the nickname The Urban Assault Vehicle after winning the 1984 Sydney Hobart Race. It was certainly different to the sort of vehicles most of the children from Pinehurst School who were venturing on Lion New Zealand were used to.

A couple of hands go up tentatively when the group is asked who Sir Peter Blake was. A few others have heard of the boat they're on. Some more have been sailing before.

The response from one youngster, though, is fairly typical.

"I have never been on a boat before so I'm really scared but I'm happy at the same time," he tells a friend after the initial briefing.

Lion New Zealand

Lion New Zealand and Steinlager II, the iconic boat Sir Peter Blake famously won the 1989/90 Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race on, are the flagship vessels operated by the NZ Sailing Trust. 

Lion New Zealand was purchased in 2008 as part of their plan to preserve famous New Zealand yachts but also to use as a platform to inspire the next generation of young Kiwis. Steinlager II was added to the stable in 2013 and quickly became the favourite because she looked newer and faster.

"Lion New Zealand became the poor cousin," Powney says.

Until now, that is.

Last year, 859 youngsters went sailing over 159 sailing days through the NZ Sailing Trust's school programmes. This year that's expected to be closer to 1400, over 205 sailing days, with Lion New Zealand back in service.

Powney thinks they can comfortably handle 2000 youngsters across 320 sailing days when at full capacity.

Lion New Zealand

It's a very hands-on experience. The children are typically split into two rotating groups - the upper and lower deck - and it's their responsibility to sail the vessel and look after what happens below as well. As many as four crew are on hand to assist.

"These boats really need 10-12 people to sail them properly so, with three crew, it's really hands-on for the kids," Powney says. "The ideal objective is to get the children to plan the course and get them to sail the boat back on the last day with us on hand. They are really leading the charge.

"To make the boat work, we have to work as a team so the kids get involved with cooking and cleaning. There are also no luxuries so it's over the side for a swim every day."

That's not too difficult on a warm, late-summer's Auckland day. Today, both Lion New Zealand and Steinlager II are setting off together, which adds to the occasion because it's been a long time since the two had sailed side-by-side.

Lion New Zealand

For many on board, though, it's more than just sailing. It's life skills. It's also about inspiring and developing youth.

"Some of the kids are really fired up about coming on board and some are quite nervous," Powney explains. "Some kids have never been on a boat, let alone been on the water. It's huge in terms of personal challenge for them.

"What you see at the other end is pretty powerful stuff. They are fired up about life. Some of them are quite emotional and don't want to leave. The feedback we get from the mums and dads, and the schools, demonstrates that what we do works."

Powney received an email recently from a parent saying their son was a lot more helpful around the house and had even cooked dinner for the family. "OMG," the email ended.

The children learn more about Sir Peter Blake the sailor but also Sir Peter Blake the environmentalist and they also participate in beach cleanups and scientific investigations. But the NZ Sailing Trust can also adjust a programme depending on what the school wants to get out of it.

Jacqueline Rea, a teacher at Pinehurst School, has a fairly simple ambition for this week's trip.

"I hope freedom," she says. "At our school we do a lot of tramping and are big on outdoor education. To transfer that onto the ocean will be absolutely amazing for our kids. I love sailing and I hope they get the same buzz."

The chatter on board increased moments before Lion New Zealand sets out for sea as the nerves and excitement built. It was a special day for the NZ Sailing Trust but also for 20 youngsters about to go on an adventure of a lifetime.

Lion New Zealand