Dear friends, in light of recent developments we are rescheduling our current sailing schedule. Full details here…

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Dear friends, in light of recent developments we are rescheduling our current sailing schedule. Full details here…
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News and Stories

​Tony Cummings awarded International Volunteer of the Year

Spirit of Adventure Trust News - ​Tony Cummings awarded International Volunteer of the Year
Tony Cummings: International Volunteer of the Year

A HUGE congratulations to our much loved volunteer watch assistant, mate and true southern man: Tony Cummings. Tony was awarded the prestigious International Volunteer of the Year at the Sail Training International Annual Awards held this weekend in Sweden. The awards recognises vessels, operators, individuals and organisations that have made a significant contribution to sail training.

Tony Cummings (aka Barbeque Bill, owner with wife Heather of a prominent Dunedin catering company of the same name) joined Spirit of New Zealand in the early 1990s for an adult weekend, sailing the notorious Foveaux Strait from Bluff to Stewart Island and back.

According to shipmates on this first occasion, he made an impression even before the ship had left her berth, doing an animated ‘live cross’ on a brick-sized cell phone to the breakfast programme of a local radio station.

From that day on, his enthusiasm has never flagged. Anytime the Spirit of Adventure Trust’s two ships were in Dunedin, Tony has been there, often with his wife Heather, providing meals, assisting departing and incoming trainees, arranging transport for crews, helping out with publicity and promotion, with maintenance or joining the crew on board for day sails.

Even at 68, Cummings boasts he can still climb the rigging. However, the biggest thrill is seeing 40 teen strangers from all walks of life and backgrounds turn up for a voyage and end up forming intense bonds.

Cummings says continuing University of Otago research, first released in 2006, proved the benefits of trainees participating in Spirit of Adventure youth development has long ranging advantages, even years after the event.

Cummings believes the Spirit experience may be even more relevant today than 40 years ago.

"We've moved with the times. Initially the ships were used for what they called sail training. We recognised many years ago it's actually about the trainees rather than the ship. The ship is only the tool. It's like the classroom. It's bringing the best out of these kids and watching them grow. "

An unequalled record

His personal voyage record as a mate or Watch Assistant is impressive, unequalled by any volunteer in the Trust’s 43-year history:

51 Ten-day youth development voyages (16-18 year-olds)

14 Five-day Spirit Trophy voyages (14-year-olds)

79 Day sails for adults, sponsors, teachers etc, whole or part days

20 days on 2013 Tasman trip, Sydney to Auckland, including open days in both cities

Sea time gained on both Spirit of Adventure and Spirit of New Zealand has been more than sufficient to gain his Masters’ Square Rig ticket and Maritime NZ’s Restricted Limits Certificate, endorsed to 500 tons and passenger. With these qualifications, he is able to sail on Spirit of New Zealand as occasional (unpaid) relief Mate.

Northern hemisphere experience

In 2013, wanting to get some experience on tall ships ‘outside our own patch,’ Tony sailed as voyage crew on the Jubilee Sailing Trust’s Tenacious. His thirty days aboard took him from Bermuda to the Azores, Cork and Southampton. Two shorter voyages followed, on the Lord Nelson and the Tall Ships Youth Trust’s brig Stavros S. Niarchos. Total time clocked up aboard these iconic British tall ships in Atlantic and British waters was sixty-two days.


Tony’s other sailing experiences besides square rig have not been without drama. In 1992 he was the only survivor of the loss of the 12-metre yacht Pacific Padnag, which foundered in heavy surf off Castlepoint on the notorious Wairarapa Coast of the lower North Island. Her skipper and two other crew did not survive.

Subsequently, over a period of six years, Tony built his own 42 ft steel cruising yacht named Wife, and in 2005 completed the Auckland to Suva yacht race. In recent years he has conducted day sails on Wife for groups of youths completing a local charitable trust’s course for troubled teens.

Lively presence

Spirit shipmates speak of Tony’s gift of livening up a voyage, particularly through the inevitable ‘down’ moments. One canny Mate, organizing the ‘Eggs Can Fly’ trainee game, gave him an egg to hold in each hand so he was forced to stand back and watch for a change. Sometimes he comes unstuck – one morning he was so intent on tying a knot in a towel hanging over the shower door that he failed to hold on to his own towel around his waist.

Tony’s enthusiasm and the enjoyment he gets from being with trainees and helping them to have a successful voyage is apparent to all who sail with him. And not only trainees: many adult crew members struggling with seasickness or momentary loss of confidence can report acts of kindness and consideration.

Local activities

Besides his contribution as volunteer crew, he has also been an active supporter of Otago Voyagers (former trainees’ club) helping, among much else, to organise, coach and fund-raise for the Otago Voyagers Dragon Boat team.

With Heather’s full support, he continues to sail on Spirit, often trip-on-trip-off through the more demanding winter months, always giving his all to the organisation he is so passionate about.

Topgallant Award

In 2010 Tony was awarded the Spirit of Adventure Trust’s highest honour, the Topgallant Award which acknowledges more than ten years’ outstanding service. Volunteers and paid staff are eligible; normally only two are given each year.

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