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First taste

Thursday 5 January 2012 | Published in Regional

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It is an historic week for the Cook Islands optimist sailing team who have travelled to Napier to compete in their first international Optimist regatta. Only two of the teams five sailors have previously sailed outside of the Cook Islands.

Duane George and Eseta Ailaouamaua have both competed in previous New Zealand champs, and Eseta competed recently in Australia.

Local community and businesses got behind the team to help finance their trip to New Zealand.

The planning was probably over three months, Cook Islands team leader Lindan Neeson-Pene said.

It all sort of came together the month before we came down. In November they held a sunset dinner cruise, a raffle, and a quiz night, organised by parents and the local community.

These events raised around $8500 to help pay for regatta fees, accommodation and food.

We got support from the local community and businesses too numerous to name, she said.

Some national business also rallied behind the sport. Maritime Cook Islands sponsored Eseta personally, and Air Rarotonga also chipped in, flying additional boats between islands for free.

The Cook Islands faces an odd challenge co-coordinating its young sailors, with airfares for people based on the outlying islands to the nationals held in Aitutaki often costing more than a flight from Rarotonga to Auckland.

With the help of Air Rarotonga their April 2011 national championships featured a total of 14 boats.

Although a far cry from many European, or even New Zealand champs, it was a big jump from their previous six. We had often just worked with six boats, but this year we said no, well try and give everybody a boat, she said.

Trying to bring the kids from various islands together to compete in national championships is itself like international travel, so that precludes a lot of people. For that reason the majority of sailors that represent us will come from Rarotonga or Aitutaki.

Although they are only baby steps for the island nation, they hope to continue to grow the sport despite the logistical challenges they face.

We hope that it snowballs. Not just for us, but for other Pacific nations, if they see us and say why not?.

With only two sailors with experience in waters outside of their own country, there are not huge expectations for the squad.

We dont have high expectations of winning it or anything but well do our best and hopefully get enough experience to do well in future events.