Akaroa skipper finds a 'higher purpose in life'

Kaiapoi Girl Guides set sail on the 101-year-old Fox II. ​Photo: Supplied
Kaiapoi Girl Guides set sail on the 101-year-old Fox II. ​Photo: Supplied
An Akaroa skipper's passion for sailing led to a commitment to educate children about boating.

Roy Borrelli has provided sailing lessons to children for 18 years through the Cansail Charitable Trust.

“It gives me a higher purpose in life,” he said.

Roy Borrelli.
Roy Borrelli.
His involvement with Cansail began when he met Grant Robinson, the previous owner of the Fox II - a 101-year-old sailboat that Borrelli now owns.

They forged an instant connection that led him to volunteer.

Reflecting on his early years with the charity, Borrelli said: “I enjoyed it so much I ended up buying the boat from him and continuing working for the charitable trust to keep it going.”

Originally from New York, Borrelli moved to Akaroa 22 years ago with his wife Sarah and twin children.

The 57-year-old volunteered for the Akaroa fire brigade and St John.

He now plays a pivotal role at Cansail, using Fox II for teaching purposes.

The ketch was crafted from Kauri timber in 1922. Borrelli and his team of 15 volunteers work tirelessly to maintain the maritime treasure.

He said their maintenance efforts are outweighed by the satisfaction of contributing to the community.

Borrelli often sees children’s confidence improve during a trip on the water.

"We had one girl who was terrified of water.

"By the end of the trip, she gained confidence, overcoming post-traumatic stress from a previous sailing incident."

Borrelli and the volunteers focus on imparting essential sailing skills during the programme which runs seven days a week from October to May.

“Teaching children is reward enough for the volunteers,” he said.

During a typical day trip, the crew teaches the basics of navigation, nautical terms, boat safety, steering and how to operate the sails as a team.

“They have fun in a new, initially scary environment, overcoming anxiety to become confident sailors by the trip’s end,” he said.

The programme, which teaches up to 1500 students annually, prioritises low decile schools and special needs children.

School groups - usually 20-25 people - are asked to contribute $200 for a class trip, a discounted price due to donations the charity receives.

Borrelli said no group is prevented from sailing due to economic hardship. All funds go back into maintaining the ageing Fox II. 

His commitment to creating memories for children goes beyond technical instruction.

“It feels positive and rewarding helping teach children,” Borelli said. 

“I am sure that every teacher and child can see how passionate and excited I am about sailing.”

-By Dylan Smits