Sailing with a social conscience

For a sustainable tourism experience which is doing good in the community, look no further than a sail on Northland's tall ship the R. Tucker Thompson.

Since 1985 the R. Tucker Thompson has been creating memories for people all around the world; she is an icon in the Bay of Islands and much loved by those who have sailed on her. But she is not just another tourism product plying her trade in the Bay – she operates as a social enterprise, a charity that uses funds from tourism to run youth development voyages for young people over winter.

In 2006, the ship was transferred into a charitable trust, to be used for the benefit of the people of Northland. Her mission statement is Learning for Life through the Sea and the intent is make a difference through the experience, whether is just a short day sail or a 7-day youth development voyage. The Trust experienced tough times when it was first established. The global financial crisis hit around the same time that the Trust embarking on their youth development voyages. With the tourism revenue plummeting, there were no spare funds available to support the voyages, but thanks to an underwrite by a local philanthropist (now the Trust’s Chair), the Trust survived. In the past 4 years as the economy has improved and tourism has rebounded. The R. Tucker Thompson Sail Training Trust has grown from the original 4 voyages a year (42 students) to last year’s 16 voyages and a record 189 students.

And 10 years on, there is now the evidence that they are making a difference to the lives of the young people from the region. For the young people who undertake a voyage, it can be literally life changing. One parent reported that her daughter learned so much about herself that she made significant life changes including going abroad for a year to study. Others become less shy, more confident and come out of their shell having gone through the experience. They broaden their horizons and make lifelong friends.

During tourism sailings, passengers can try the challenges faced by the trainees – conquering the fear of climbing the rigging to be rewarded with a sense of achievement as well as an awesome view. For the less adventurous, the chance to hoist the sails or just take the helm can be equally inspiring.

Often former sail trainees return to help on board over summer. It provides work experience as well as give passengers a chance to see the young people they are helping through their participation. The surplus the Trust makes from Tourism activities go to maintain the ship and also to subsidise the cost of the voyages, making them more affordable for the youngsters from the region, a low socio-economic part of the country.

So if you are looking put something back when you holiday in New Zealand, take a sail on board the R. Tucker Thompson. Not only is it a 5 Start experience on TripAdvisor and not to be missed, but your money will be going to a really good cause.

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