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Voyage for foster care

Windfola’s crew: Elana and Zia. Photo: MacKenzie Dyer.

One woman, one dog and a trusty sailboat traveling the world’s seas sounds like a winning movie plot.

But for real life solo-sailor Elana Connor, her rescue pup Zia and their 1985 Sabre 34 sloop, the four month venture has a greater purpose than sounding like a blockbuster.

Elana is sailing a figure eight around coastal New Zealand flying a flag for VOYCE Whakarongo Mai, a charity that advocates for children who spend time in foster or whanau care.

She will sail the North Island’s East Coast and the South Island’s West this year and the other side of each island in 2021, stopping in towns throughout the country as she goes.

The boat, Windfola, set sail from Auckland’s Viaduct on October 14, taking a pit stop in the Bay of Plenty a week later.

The money Elana raises on her journey, called Voyage for VOYCE, will create a scholarship fund for youth in care to attend educational 10 day sailing trip, Spirit of Adventure.

Elana hopes her trip will help communities understand the unique and complex reality that the 6500 Kiwi youth in care experience.

“In 3-12 months, 37 per cent of New Zealand youth in care will have more than one caregiver, so it’s up to all of us to make sure they still have opportunities and a sense of community despite this.”

Championing kids in care

Elana set sail from her home in California last year, spending time in French Polynesia before arriving in New Zealand in December.

Everywhere she goes, she spends time learning about how the care system works.

It’s a cause close to home – Elana was in foster care in the US from age 15 to 18.

“I lived in group homes with other kids,” says Elana.

“I was lucky in that I had a really great case worker and my Gran –  she wasn’t able to take me in, but  she did visit me while I was in  various placements.

“So I had a couple of women who really encouraged and supported me while I was in care, and believed that  I could do more, and expect more out of my life.”

Elana says the narrative presented to children in care is grim.

“Well-meaning social workers are trying to mitigate risk when it comes to youth in care, so the focus is always on survival – but often times that’s what their whole lives have already been about.

“When they’re transitioned into adulthood, the benchmark is only set at trying to be stable, staying clean and not hurting themselves. It’s about surviving, not thriving, and that’s what I want to change.”

BOP pit stop

While in the Bay, Elana visited Tauranga Girls’ College, Women on Water Tauranga and hosted an open boat, where she gave insight into life as a one-woman world sailor.

Her story connected with many, seen by the boat, three  canoes and group of solo paddlers that launched beside  Windfola as it began Voyage for VOYCE’s next leg on October 24, destination: Gisborne.

During her stay, “how do you cope with storms?” was a  re-occurring question.

“I do a lot of research before I go anywhere, which includes looking at charts of historical storm data and the forecast, so I don’t hit bad weather very often.”

The boat is stacked with books to assist Elana’s research.

The Storm Tactics Handbook, a guide on heaving-to in extreme conditions, is one of her favourites.

Elana’s top storm-surviving tip: sleep. “In bad weather I do my best to sleep – you have to look after yourself first.”

The intrigue into Elana’s travels over the last three years has turned into a small business. Paid subscriptions to journey updates, written by Elana, funds her trips.

“I always wanted to be a writer, so this puts my two passions together and has made this trip possible. It’s peanuts, but it gets me most things I need.

“I feel like the luckiest person to be able to do this.”

As well marrying with Elana’s own sailing passion, the Spirit of Adventure’s short 10 day timeframe is practical and accessible trip for youth in care to participate in.

“It’s not about sailing – it’s about everything else that comes with living with 39 other youth you’ve never met and working as a team to run the boat.

“It’s about facing whatever it is that you’re afraid of, and celebrating the incremental progress you make towards facing those fears.

Life changing

Sailing changed Elana’s life.

“I grew up doing water activities, but I never thought sailing would be accessible to me because it’s so expensive.

“In 2014, I saw a 50 per cent off coupon for a sailing class, went along and have been hooked since. My club back home are my sailing family. Being around people who support your crazy dreams changes your life on so many levels.”

Elana was inspired by women in her club who sailed from California to Hawaii on their own – a trip she later did herself.

“That’s what I want to do for kids in care: be an example of what is possible.”

Elana says she’s incredibly grateful for the support she received while in the Bay – from free berth at Sulphur Point Marina and boat maintenance from locals, to free-of-charge vet and dentists visits. To donate to Voyage for VOYCE and to follow Elana’s adventure, visit: www.peregrinasails.com

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