Tall ship works its magic

Children and adults queue at the Birch St wharf to tour  Spirit of New Zealand in Dunedin on...
Children and adults queue at the Birch St wharf to tour Spirit of New Zealand in Dunedin on Saturday. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Watching hundreds of children and adults queue to tour Spirit of New Zealand in Dunedin on Saturday, long-serving Spirit of Adventure Trust volunteer Tony Cummings was ''absolutely gobsmacked''.

The Dunedin man said it had been about seven years since the Auckland-based vessel last visited the city but interest in the tall ship far exceeded expectations.

''I would conservatively say we had more than 1000 people come aboard,'' Mr Cummings said.

Launched in 1986, Spirit of New Zealand recently underwent a $1.5 million refit, he said.

Tony Cummings
Tony Cummings
For two hours on Saturday, 12 volunteers each showed groups of six people around the vessel. A reunion for those involved in the trust had been planned for 4pm, but had to be delayed to allow all those waiting a chance to climb aboard.

''We wouldn't turn anyone away. This is awesome, the day has worked out brilliantly,'' Mr Cummings said.

The tall ship sailed from Dunedin at noon yesterday with 40 ''trainees'' aged between 15 and 19 years as well as up to 14 crew members.

In the 40 years the trust has been operating, about 75,000 young trainees had been to sea aboard Spirit of New Zealand and its predecessor, Spirit of Adventure.

Mr Cummings, who became involved with the trust in 1989, had started seeing the children of past trainees complete the 10-day trips of the Spirit.

''For me, the absolute magic is seeing 40 teenagers who turn up not knowing anybody, and well out of their comfort zone, become so close it's unbelievable.

''Some turn up with all the bravado and others are shy, but after 10 days they are all leaders and all equal,'' he said.

Skills learnt aboard, such as co-operation, set trainees up for life, Mr Cummings said.

''The ship is actually just a tool to bring out that leadership, teamwork and co-operation. It's a small space and in the first two or three days politeness keeps everything going, but once people get over that there can be a bit of friction and then it's all about working it through,'' he said. Jeremy Rei (18), of Dunedin, who was a trainee on the ship about two years ago, had since worked as a volunteer on five trips.

He was ''bitten by the bug'' and said the attraction of sailing aboard Spirit of New Zealand was simply that of a completely different experience not available anywhere else.

- rosie.manins@odt.co.nz

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