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Spirit of NZ: a sailor’s mission

Elana Connor and her dog Zia arrived in Gisborne at the weekend, on a mission to raise awareness and funds for Voyce — Whakarongo Mai, an independent charity organisation that helps advocate for the approximately 6000 children and young people in state care in New Zealand.

Over the next four months she is sailing a figure of eight voyage around Aotearoa New Zealand to raise funds, with the goal of creating a new scholarship programme for youth in state care so they can attend the 10-day youth development journeys aboard the tall ship, the Spirit of New Zealand.

Elana is sailing solo.

“I’m just 12 days into the voyage, and when I left Tauranga bound for Gisborne just a couple of days ago I learned that a young woman has already secured a place on a Spirit of New Zealand development journey thanks to our project,” Elana said.

“She came out to see me off, which meant so much to me.”

The young American woman arrived in Auckland from California on a solo voyage around the world back in December 2019.

She had planned to head out again in March this year but then Covid-19 hit.

Faced with a world in lockdown, she decided to extend her stay in New Zealand and reached out to Voyce to see what she could do to help young people like herself raised in state care and dealing with a range of challenges in the transition to adulthood.

For Elana, sailing the ocean was where she found her joy.

“In the US, sailing is something that only the super-rich can access. It was only through the good luck of receiving a half price coupon in the mail that I ever got a chance to try,” Elana said.

She first learned to sail in 2014 and by 2016 had bought her 10.4 metre yacht and was sailing to Hawaii from California.

Elana has made three major solo ocean passages covering more than 10,000 nautical miles in the Pacific over the past three years.

While she may be sailing solo, she is not completely alone; her on-board companion is her 4-kilogram rescue dog, Zia, a papillon mix.

After making landfall in New Zealand in December, she was determined to use her skills and her voice to make a difference.

“I really like talking with yacht clubs about how important it is to think about how they make space for kids who don’t grow up in the sailing world, or who may not have the opportunities that other kids get.

“So far people in New Zealand have been really receptive and keen to know how they can do this.”

Having gone through the transition from foster care to independence herself, Elana believes that young people in foster care are in need of access to experiences that will 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 a healthy


Elana and Zia are holding an open-boat event at the Inner Harbour Marina tomorrow from 4pm-6pm.

Locals are invited to register with her ground support team from 4pm just outside Crawford Road Kitchen.

RAISING AWARENESS: Elana Connor and her dog Zia are sailing a figure of eight voyage around Aotearoa New Zealand to raise funds for the Voyce charity that advocates for children and young people in state care. Picture by Hiria Barbara