Solo yachtie sets sail to help others

Having an end of a journey to work towards is important, but solo circumnavigator Elana Connor is finding it is the journey itself that matters most.

The American sailor arrived in New Zealand on her 10m yacht Windfola in December 2019, on the first leg of her single-handed voyage around the world from California.

She and her rescue dog Zia then planned to head for the Indian Ocean for her second leg but, like many other people’s plans, it was shut down by Covid-19.

"We were only planning on staying in New Zealand for the cyclone season, like so many yachties do.

American solo circumnavigator Elana Connor and rescue dog Zia, aboard her yacht Windfola, which...
American solo circumnavigator Elana Connor and rescue dog Zia, aboard her yacht Windfola, which is sailing a figure-eight circumnavigation of New Zealand to raise money for youth in foster care. PHOTO: GERARD O’BRIEN
"Then Covid hit in the middle of the cyclone season, and I was locked down here.

"So I thought, if I can’t circumnavigate, what can I do here that would be meaningful?"

While trawling the internet one day, she discovered a man who walked Te Araroa trail, the length of New Zealand, to raise funds for children in foster care.

"As soon as I saw that, I thought I could walk that trail. Then I thought, ‘wait a second, I have a boat’.

"So I decided to sail a figure-eight circumnavigation of New Zealand to raise money for youth in foster care."

She is raising funds for Voyce Whakarongo Mai, an organisation that is creating a new scholarship programme for youth in foster care, to attend the 10-day youth development journeys aboard the tall ship Spirit of New Zealand.

"I just really believed in the mahi [work] they’re doing and thought they were pretty awesome.

"We decided we wanted to use the scholarship to create more opportunities for young people in care — specifically, we wanted to create more opportunities for young people who are ageing out of care.

"That’s my story.

"I grew up in a pretty violent home.

"I went into care at 15, aged out at 18 and had no support after that. The reality is not that much different for young folks here in New Zealand."

Having gone through the transition from foster care to independence, she believed foster youth were in need of access to experiences that would grow their self-confidence, teamwork skills, resilience, and personal aspirations.

She knows first-hand how outdoor education opportunities can change the life of a teenager and help them transition into "healthy and self-actualised" adulthood.

"The Spirit of New Zealand's journeys are life-changing, and I believe they will provide care-experienced youth with a pivotal opportunity to expand their horizon of possibility, and reach greater potential."

Her New Zealand circumnavigation started on October 14 last year, and she expected to be finished, back in Auckland, by mid-April.

 - More information on the voyage here

 - Donate here


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