A volunteer group that had the wind taken out of its sails by thieves is now just weeks away from opening a long-awaited boating workshop and community gym. The Hokianga Sailing Trust, which is reviving children's sailing on the Hokianga Harbour, was building a storage shed and workshop on Rawene Domain when thieves struck over Labour Weekend last year.

Ninety sheets of cladding were stolen, leaving the club with just the shed's bare framing and no money to finish it.
It was a huge setback not just for the club but also for other groups planning to share the shed, half of which has been set aside for a community gym.
However, the project is now back on track thanks to a big community effort and the generosity of Northland firms. Totalspan Bay of Islands, which gave the group a good deal on the original shed, supplied new cladding and fitted it at cost.

Just this week a timber mill has offered to provide internal cladding without charge. Trustee Rene de Vries, of Omapere, said the group hoped to open the 25x7.5m shed next month. It would be used by the sailing trust, a community gym, Coastguard, Rawene Fire Brigade and the Pirates Club, which will operate a "men's shed" and restore old boats. The Domain's old ablution block is also being renovated. Mr de Vries said Totalspan had been "fantastic", as had Opononi Lions Club and individuals who had donated moneyto the cause. The greatest contribution had been people's time and concern. Even so the theft had left the trust $12,000 out of pocket. It now had to start fundraising again to pay for lighting, wiring and stormwater.

The project sprang from the trust's need for a boat repair workshop as well as winter storage for its six Optimists and handful of Lasers. The Alinghi America's Cup syndicate initially donated a shed thanks to Mr de Vries' connections as a sports physiotherapist.Later, when the Far North District Council came on board with funding and the project grew to include a gym, it was not big enough so Totalspan traded it for a bigger, brand-new shed.

The trust was founded in 2008 by Mr de Vries and GP Paul Bowker in a bid to revive sailing on the Hokianga and provide opportunities for local children.
The volunteers, led by Mr Bowker, run a free kids' sailing every Wednesday and Saturday in summer with a Sunday session geared at older sailors. They also run two six-week sailing programmes each year at Rawene School. Sailing gave children new skills and taught them about water safety, tides and wind.
"We've had kids who weren't doing well at school and weren't taking part in group activities. Through sailing they got confidence and a sense that, 'I can do this'. It has changed their whole attitude," he said.

Totalspan Bay of Islands/Hokianga co-owner Karen Adams said the sailing trust had saved hard for a worthwhile community initiative.
"We felt they had been hard done by, so we were only to happy to step in." The franchise is also repairing a bus shelter stolen from Waimate North in December and recovered in Horeke. It is due to be returned to its rightful spot next week.

- Northern Advocate