THE VOYAGE FOR VOYCE SCHOLARSHIP FUND

Rangatahi in care aged between 16 – 18 years old have got the amazing chance to go on a life-changing Spirit of Adventure voyage!
Solo sailor and former foster kid Elana Connor sailed a figure-8 around Aotearoa in 2020/21 to raise money through givealittle to kickstart the Voyage for VOYCE Scholarship Fund.
It’s aimed at supporting and developing rangatahi in care through outdoor education, an opportunity they might not otherwise get. The 10-day Voyage is the experience of a lifetime, building self-confidence, friendships and resilience, all the right stuff that helps to get through tough times.
Selection for the Scholarship is by a random monthly ballot, so all an interested young person has to do is make sure they meet the criteria, then enter their details at the ‘APPLY HERE’ link below! VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai will select 6 recipients at a time, and then those young people and their support system will work together with Spirit of Adventure to book their voyage. If for whatever reason, a recipient is unable to attend, another young person shall be chosen at random from the ballot.

APPLY HERE

How it all began… 

Originally from the west coast of the US, Elana was stranded in NZ after COVID closed international borders, putting her circumnavigation voyage on hold. She then set her sights on supporting the NZ foster care community, developing a scholarship fund and fundraising voyage to enable NZ teenagers in care to go on a life-changing sailing voyage.

Elana only learnt to sail seven years ago. Since then, she and her wee rescue dog Zia have sailed more than 10,000 nautical miles. The end of the Voyage for VOYCE marked an impressive number of milestones:

  • 3000 nautical miles covered
  • 22 NZ ports visited
  • +1300 kids hosted on her boat
  • Speaking with +1000 people at 19 different yacht clubs

Elana has also faced many challenges during her voyage: the death of her beloved Grandma, significant storms and rough sea conditions, countless boat repairs and towards the end of the Voyage, a very determined rat stowed away for weeks onboard her trusty 10.33m sailboat, Windfola.

“I was extremely committed to completing this voyage for care experienced rangatahi. More than 500 NZ teenagers ‘age’ out of foster care every year, and their journey to independence is often fraught with financial instability and issues arising from past trauma and experiences in the state care system. Having gone through that specific transition myself from foster care, it’s a cause close to my heart. I want to show them someone believes in their potential and ultimately drive better life outcomes”, says Elana.

LOOKING BACK…..

THE VOYAGE BEGINS

Voyage for VOYCE went from October 2020 to June 2021, with Elana (@peregrinasails) as Captain of Windfola and Zia, her 4kg rescue dog, as First Mate. They started in Auckland, heading South via the East Coast of the North Island towards Tauranga.

“Elana did some motivational talks at the yacht club to a group of young people and the women on water sailing club. There were young people on board the whale watching boat that was part of her send off. The send-off was awesome with the tugboats doing their plumes of water thing and a flotilla accompanying her up to the estuary entrance including tour boats yachts and kayaks.”

The Tauranga Team

EAST COAST OF THE NORTH ISLAND 

Then Elana headed further along the East Coast to Hawke’s Bay where she began talking with yacht clubs, local boat clubs, school groups and kids in care about her own inspirational journey, while answering any questions about life at sea.

TOWARDS TE WAI POUNAMU 

It was time for Elana and Zia to cross the Cook Strait for the first time. It was a balancing act between waiting for good weather conditions and keeping up with the Voyage schedule. The pair sailed for 44 hours to get from Ahuriri, Napier in the North Island, to the Marlborough Sounds in the South Island. Elana was given a generous berth by Marlborough Sounds Marinas in the downtown area, which meant the crew of two could spend time catching up on sleep, fresh food and taking Zia for walks on land!

INSPIRING SCHOOLS AND YACHT CLUBS

Elana visited many schools and yacht clubs during her time down South (including Picton, Waikawa, Blenheim, Nelson, Mapua and Takaka). By this point, Elana and Windfola had raised around $13k of the $50k target for the Voyage for VOYCE Scholarship Fund. Elana made an amazing new sailing friend, Tony Cooper, who donated his time and skills to help her investigate engine issues, and the two sailors enjoyed trading sailing stories.

REST BEFORE THE WILD WEST COAST

Elana then stopped for a few days in Golden Bay as the crew was a little worse for wear and needed to catch up on some rest before tackling the wild West Coast. They also got to finish a few more boat projects that would hopefully get them through the next leg of the trip (spoiler alert: it didn’t really work!). Travelling down the mysterious and uncertain depths of Fiordland made the crew understandably anxious.

CHRISTMAS STRESS AND GUARDIAN ANGELS

As Elana sailed down the West Coast of the South Island, the rest of New Zealand headed off for their summer vacations and family Christmases. Elana made it to Rakiura (Stewart Island) just after New Year and some serious solo sailing. Windfola was plagued by engine problems, as well as Satcom issues and poor VHF reception, which made for a super stressful time while also in one of the most rugged and isolated parts of NZ. Local communities came together to support Elana and Zia during the holidays, even in the most isolated of areas, namely Piopiotahi (Milford Sound), where locals took in Elana and Zia over the holidays. In Doubtful Sound, they also had a few guardian angels including the Russian Crew of Heritage Expeditions Ship and several Southland locals who shared their kai with the crew of two. Elana stayed warm in the wet conditions of the south thanks to the generous Kaiwaka clothing brand, the first wet weather gear she’d worn that truly kept her both warm and DRY (“like being swaddled in a big Kiwi hug”).

ONWARDS TO DUNEDIN – HALFWAY POINT!

Before arriving in Dunedin, the crew had to double back and shelter in Bluff for a little while to let some bad weather pass through and work on some engine issues.

The Otago Yacht Club made sure that Elana and Zia were welcomed into the harbour safely and with lots of big smiles. Elana collected a much-needed care package full of new filters and gaskets for the boat.

They then spent their time in Dunedin connecting with local rangatahi, spending time with VOYCE Kaiwhakamana and fixing Windfola issues. Reaching Dunedin meant that Elana and Zia were finally at the halfway point of the Voyage for VOYCE, only another half of the country to go! One of the Dunedin Club leaders, Pete, took Elana and Zia out for some sightseeing of iconic local places like Baldwin Street, the steepest street in the world. Another club member donated groceries to the crew.  Progressive Field and Marine Services also shouted Elana a brand-new unit, which solved an existing fuel issue! Unfortunately, when Elana was set to leave Dunedin she was hit with food poisoning, which pushed the departure out further as she recovered and waited for good weather conditions to sail.

“While Elana was here, we were able to have the Puketai kids spend an hour on the boat. It was amazing seeing her connect with the young people and really get them on board with the dream that they can do anything. We have two kids who are super keen to go on the spirit of adventure once they turn 16. During the open boat we got a mixed group of people and Elana was able to connect with them all young and old. At the Yacht club presentation people were keen to hear about VOYCE and why we do what we do. I was blown away by the community support Elana received when she was here in Dunedin and experiencing boat issues.”

The Dunedin Team

TRAVELLING UP THE SOUTH

As Elana sailed up Te Wai Pounamu, she made stops in Port Chalmers, Oamaru, Akaroa, and then made it to Lyttleton, another big stop in the South Island. Te Ana Marina in the Lyttleton Harbour welcomed the crew with waiata, and then Elana jumped straight into media interviews with Seven Sharp. After heaps of speaking events, and great connections being made with the rangatahi in the area, the crew of Windfola were ready to tackle the Cook Strait again and head up to Wellington.

“We welcomed Elana into Te Ana Marina on a blistering hot Ōtautahi day with our staff and care-experienced young people getting to have a look around her boat. While she was here Kaiwhakamana facilitated a meet and greet for young people & Elana. The rangatahi were inside the sailboat talking with Elana for at least an hour. It was a positive experience for all with some really deep and meaningful kōrero happening about shared experiences in residence and overcoming adversity.”
The Christchurch Team

STOPPING IN PŌNEKE

When in Wellington, Elana was able to join some local sailors from Wellington Youth Sailing and enjoy a race day (a nice change from sailing the voyage). Elana hosted a few open boats on Windfola, where care experienced young people could come and visit, explore the boat, and ask Elana questions about her journeys at sea and in care. Elana hosted these open boats all around the motu, inspiring hundreds of Kiwi kids as she went.

“The Poneke team had a great couple of weeks with Elana and Zia. The Wellington wind added some extra excitement to the boat tour and meant we all had to hold hands as we walked down the narrow floating dock! The tamariki loved learning about Elana’s adventures and exploring all the secret compartments on the boat.”

The Poneke Team

HEADING NORTH

As Elana sailed north, she stopped in at Seaview Marina before getting to New Plymouth. This was a hard time for Elana as this was when her main support person and her inspiration behind the Voyage, her grandmother, sadly passed away. Elana had to be really strong during this time, continuing with her mission of meeting with young people and inspiring them to broaden their horizons. This loss made it difficult to complete the final part of the voyage, but Elana chose to continue, to make her grandmother proud and, in the process, made us all proud.

 “There is something really special about the connection Elana makes with rangatahi. The lived experience, the heart, and the realness. One of the best parts was that everything was a “try it” – start the engine, press that button, see what’s in that hatch. For rangatahi who get so many big “no’s” from people around them, just the ‘yes’ and ‘go for it’ was an immediate joy bringer.”

The Northland Team

THE FAR NORTH

When Elana made it to Northland, there were more media interviews including RNZ. With only a few hundred nautical miles left in the voyage, fundraising efforts were bigger than ever, especially with the America’s Cup going on. Elana also had a new member in the crew, albeit an unwanted one. A stowaway rat joined her for her trip around the Northernmost tip of NZ, eating into wires, keeping Elana up all night, and doing maximum damage while also being a master at hide and squeak! Elana set more than 10 traps, left out bait, cleaned out lockers, but the capture was slow. Eventually, the rat issue was solved, thanks to a friend’s good advice and pest supplies.

THE FINAL LEG

After hosting more inspirational talks in Northland, it was time for Elana to make the final sail back into Auckland. Elana sailed into the Waitemata Harbour alongside a flotilla of boats, including the impressive Spirit of Adventure. Members from the VOYCE National Youth Council were aboard Windfola with Elana and Zia as they made their final sail into the Harbour, with some steering and supporting Elana as she completed her amazing milestone. Local iwi welcomed Elana aboard the moored Spirit of Adventure vessel, and Elana’s support crew from throughout NZ joined her onboard to celebrate her amazing achievement. Elana climbed one of the masts and delivered an inspirational speech in which she dedicated her successful completion of the Voyage for VOYCE to all young people in care, reminding them of their amazing potential, worth and ability to go on and have promising futures, despite what may have happened to them.

Something we can all learn from Elana’s journey on the Voyage for VOYCE is that even though things may not be easy, and sometimes they may even be scary, with the right support and determination you can achieve something really awesome. You can read more about Elana and her story which was covered by key NZ media throughout her Voyage here.

VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai is proud of Elana’s fundraising Voyage for VOYCE. Not just the solo sailing journey, but also raising awareness of the potential and talent of care experienced young people and inspiring those young people that they can do hard things and achieve great things too. Elana is a living example of what our care experienced young people are capable of with the right support and investment.

If you’re care experienced and would like to nominate yourself, or you’d like to nominate a care experienced young person for a Voyage for VOYCE scholarship, then please follow the link at the top of the page (or insert the same link here).

And if you’d like to be more involved with VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai, get support from any of our Kaiwhakamana (advocates), or be invited to the next tūhono (fun connection event) in your region, then email us at contactus@voyce.org.nz or free call us on 08004VOYCE / 0800486923

NEWS COVERAGE OF VOYAGE FOR VOYCE