Marlborough sailor Nick Gardiner has never been one to shirk a challenge.
However, in two days’ time the 21-year-old will tackle what shapes as the toughest proposition of his sporting career so far, when he and fellow youngster Ben Beasley line up at the start of the gruelling 2020 Short Handed Sailing Association Round North Island Yacht Race.
The duo are the youngest competitors in the race and will crew the smallest boat in the fleet. Their yacht, Moving Violation, is an Elliott 7.9 designed by Greg Elliott. At just 7.0m on the waterline Beasley and Gardiner will have plenty of work to do to keep Moving Violation at the front of the pack in what will be a diverse division.
The RNI, which covers around 1271 nautical miles, is New Zealand’s most iconic yachting challenge and the 2020 edition will feature 38 yachts, ranging from Gardiner and Beasley’s 28-foooter to 52-foot craft. This is 13th edition of the race, 43 years after the inaugural event was first planned by Sir Peter Blake and Martin Foster.
The race starts in Auckland with the first leg to Mangonui in the far north, leg two is from Mangonui to Wellington, the third leg is from Wellington to Napier and the final stage is from Napier returning to Auckland. The race is expected to take around two weeks to complete.
Making it to the start line of this epic race is a challenge in itself. Each yacht must have a Category 2 Safety Certificate issued by Yachting NZ and have completed a 250 Nautical Mile qualifying passage with both co-skippers on board. The co-skippers must both also complete Advanced First Aid training, Advanced Sea Survival qualifications and provide a medical certificate deeming them fit to compete.
The youngsters have followed similar path to the RNI.
Gardiner began with Learn to Sail classes at the Queen Charlotte Yacht Club and progressed through the grades, he and fellow Marlburian Nick Williams winning the Marlborough Sports Awards Team of the Year in 2016 after taking out an international regatta in California.
Beasley, who owns Moving Violation, began sailing aged nine and moved quickly through the youth classes, competing in national and international regattas.
Both Beasley and Gardiner have crewed on keelboats competing in harbour races and regattas including class nationals and Coastal Classics. Together they have competed in events such as the ANZAC 250 and last year completed the Coastal Classic two-handed as part of qualifying for the RNI.
They both work in sailing-related industries – Ben is a trainee spar maker and Nick a trainee sailmaker. Evolution Sails is supporting them for the race.
When asked what appealed most about the forthcoming challenge, Gardiner was to the point.
“My favourite point of sail is broad reaching, because it’s fast. The thing I like most about Moving Violation is the fact it is so easy to manage. Also a highlight will be seeing different parts of the country at dawn, I’m looking forward to that.
“Our biggest supporters have been our parents – Dad is doing all he can from Marlborough while Ben’s family have been fantastic.”
Odyssey V, skippered by Garry Coleman and Nigel Siburn, have the privilege of being the oldest combined crew in the 2020 RNI with a combined age of 138, and are impressed by what Beasley and Gardiner are undertaking.
“We wish Ben and Nick all the best for the race and look forward to seeing them off our stern all the way around the North Island, – just follow us lads, us old chaps can show you the way – and then make sure you do the race again and again until you’re our age!”
Beasley and Gardner have a dual purpose during their time on the water, they are using the challenge to raise awareness and funds for the charity Lifeline. The charity receives no Government funding and yet fields a staggering 10,000 calls a month offering a listening ear to people in dark places. It costs $750 to train one helpline volunteer, and, to date, the young men have raised enough money for one and a bit volunteer(s), but they would like to raise enough to train two or more people.
The cause hits close to home. They both have personal stories of friends and family suffering depression and mental illness.
Beasley said, “NZ has a very high suicide rate and personally I have known people with depression who have taken their own lives. With Lifeline there is always a person on the phone that you can talk to confidentially and I think it’s important people are aware of this”.
Nick and Ben’s Lifeline fundraising page is https://give.everydayhero.com/nz/sailing-for-lifeline-1
They also have a Facebook page where you can follow their progress https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Amateur-Sports-Team/MV-Sailing-Elliott-79-280347112506534/.