Earlier this year, Two Oceans Marins Manufacturing announced our platinum sponsorship of The Little Optimist Trust. One of the great initiatives that we put together with The Little Optimist was The Great Optimist Race at this year’s Cape Town International Boat Show.
This year’s Cape Town International Boat Show, owned and managed for the first time by Messe Frankfurt, featured an event with a difference – The Great Optimist Race.
The Great Optimist Race was conceptualized in 2015 and launched last year at the 2017 Boat Show – an optimist dinghy race for adults, to raise funds and awareness for The Little Optimist Trust as well as for various charities.
The Little Optimist’s story is an inspirational one: In April 2016, Greg Bertish sailed an 8-foot Children’s optimist dinghy around the Cape of Storms. He crossed False Bay, rounded Cape Point and headed for Langebaan Lagoon on the wild West Coast of South Africa. His 200-kilometre journey matched the 200 days he had spent in hospital at age thirty, fighting life-threatening heart infections caused by a tropical bacterium. Greg also authored the children’s book, The Little Optimist, a heart-warming story about a little boat with a big heart.
It was when Greg was fighting for his life in hospital that he became inspired to help sick and needy children. In the bed next to him was a small baby who had undergone multiple heart surgeries, and Greg knew then that his purpose was to give sick children hope and inspire them.
When one meets Greg Bertish, one can’t help but be inspired by him, and want to get involved with his cause. He carries an infectious optimism with him wherever he goes, and most importantly, he is the real deal – so genuinely motivated to help others. Greg hopes this journey of a real Little Optimist and his children’s book about a little believer with a huge heart will help teach kids that being small, sick, poor or different is OK, and prove that they too can survive and thrive. His story inspires kids and the world to believe in themselves, get better, be better and follow their passions and dreams.
Greg is a big wave surfer and a South African champion lifesaver and stand up paddle boarder. He is an ambassador for the Children’s Hospital Trust and the National Sea Rescue Institute, and the founder of the Shark Spotter Programme. He has helped raise over R3 million for these charities to date. Most impressively, he has achieved all of this as a multiple heart surgery survivor and patient.
In 2016 Greg raised R300 000 towards a new Intensive Care Unit at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital and in 2017 raised R1 million for the hospital and painted it. Particularly relevant to the boating community is Greg’s support of the NSRI, an organisation close to the hearts of sea-goers in South Africa.
Greg Bertish explains, “An optimist is a person who engages in positive thinking or looking on the bright side of things. Optimism is the outlook that good things will happen, even if the situation may not appear totally positive at that moment. An Optimist Dinghy is a small (8 foot by 3.5 foot), single-handed sailing dinghy intended for use by children up to the age of 15. The Optimist (Opi) is known as a small child’s sailing dinghy -certainly not designed for sailing in the open ocean!
I wanted to use this Little Optimist children’s sailing dinghy as a metaphor and a vehicle to connect with kids, to promote positive thinking and belief, and to create a passion and purpose to overcome obstacles in life.
Through my work with children and The Children’s Hospital Trust, I have seen that many sick and scared kids (and everyday people) have very little to fight and live for. They have no passion and no desire to get well and leave hospital, or even just to lead an inspired life. As a child, I lacked confidence, had bad acne, was a poor student and was bullied. Using my life changing experiences and adventures and with the backing of my platinum sponsor Two Oceans Marine Manufacturing and gold sponsors Ullman Sails and Italtile, I aim to inspire these kids to survive and thrive.
I have spent nearly 200 days in hospital. (almost 100 days in 2007 alone.) During this time; I was sick, misdiagnosed, operated on, had IV drips 24/7, and at stages was offered no hope or cure. I used visualisation, optimism and my passion for the ocean and life to overcome, survive and get out of hospital. I was lucky, I had something to live for!”
Says Mark Delany, Managing Director of Two Oceans Marine Manufacturing: “The first time I met Greg and listened to his story, and his passion for dedicating his life to helping worthwhile causes through The Little Optimist, I knew immediately that Two Oceans Marine Manufacturing would become involved with the causes of The Little Optimist. I am pleased to announce that Two Oceans Marine Manufacturing has now become the platinum sponsor for The Little Optimist and I am appealing to all organisations around the world to join us in supporting this inspirational cause. Greg is a man who will change people’s lives for the better.”
In 2018, The Great Optimist Race was a brave new project that Greg took on in conjunction with the Cape Town International Boat Show to raise further awareness
for the good work done by The Little Optimist Trust, and to raise funds for various charities.
Greg acquired a fleet of 25 optimist dinghies – some donated, some bought, in various states of readiness to sail – some race-ready and some just bare hulls with a lot of work needed. He put together a team and set about revamping the optimists and planning the race. Zeekoe Vlei Yacht Club gave The Little Optimist Trust their full support, giving nine of their optimist dinghies to be used in the race and branded by the various sponsors – and the premises of Ullman Sails and Zeekoe Vlei Yacht Club became an optimist workshop for six weeks as work on the boats took place to get them all race ready. Two Oceans Marine Manufacturing re-sprayed 36 optimist hulls in their factory in Cape Town. Preparation for the race was in full swing.
Various corporates jumped at the opportunity to join Two Oceans Marine in coming onboard to support and and sponsor an optimist dinghy for the race to raise funds for the Trust. Local celebrities Arno Carstens, Josie Borain, John Steenhuisen from the DA and Survivor finalist Jeanne Michel were excited to take on the challenge of sailing the children’s dinghies in the race, even though they had never sailed before. Greg also donated boats to charities like the NSRI, the Newborns Trust and Cancer Dojo, to sail in the race and raise awareness and funds. Various cancer, stroke, lung transplant and shark attack survivors also joined the race, making the brave move of sailing for the first time in front of the crowds at the Waterfront.
A training day was held at Zeekoe Vlei Yacht Club on 6 October, and many celebrities and survivors came back to the club a few times for lessons in preparation for the big race.
The first two days of the boat show – 19 and 20 October – saw gale-force South Easters, and so the Great Optimist Race was postponed until the Sunday 21 October. The Race was a resounding success as the V&A Waterfront and Boat Show visitors flocked to the marina to watch the 42 sailors in action for an hour. KFM surf reporter and well -known media personality Deon Bing commentated on the race throughout.
With the magnificent Table Mountain as a backdrop raced for glory, and for a good cause, in the children’s sailboats. Three separate starts (beginner, intermediate and pro), allowed for an even handicap and gave those who had only learned to sail days before a fair chance. The unique sailing race was all about overcoming the odds. As with daily life, the race had a few curveballs and obstacles for the sailors to overcome: not only did the wind gusts on the course cause havoc, but so did the pedestrian bridge that opened and closed at will, along with local celebrities Kieno Kammies and Tanya Nefdt, who were “armed and dangerous” with water pistols on their own bigger sailing dinghy.
The first boat to capsize was sailed by Ian Klopper of NSRI. Klopper’s son Adam underwent three heart surgeries before the age of three, and now 17, sailed alongside his dad in the race. Jumping the start was rock star Arno Carstens in the Cape Town International Boat show boat.
Shark attack survivor amputee and adaptive surfing champion Caleb Swanepoel won the race. Coming into the home stretch 22-year old Swanepoel in the Primi boat was neck and neck with liver transplant survivor Jasper Eales, but in the end the amputee says luck favoured him. “What an incredible experience and event! A huge thank you to everyone who organised it. I had so much fun learning to sail and taking to the water. So stoked to be out there today with other survivors and skippers”, says Swanepoel.
Well known South African musician, Arno Carstens, had a wonderful time and looked very comfortable sailing a children’s sailing dinghy after only a few lessons. “I came, I saw, I came second last”, laughed Carstens. “The empty spot on the mantel piece where my trophy is supposed to be will stay empty until next year. I shall return triumphantly. It was such fun to be part of such a lovely vibe, truly inspirational – thank you!”
John Steenhuisen from the DA said, “Wonderful day out on the water with wonderful competitors for a really special cause. Great camaraderie and fun on the water, and although I came last this year, I will be back next year to sail to victory!”
Aside from the main race event, The Little Optimist Trust also hosted sailing experiences and academies for children from less fortunate circumstances over the course of the three-day Boat Show. A group of boys from The Reach for a Dream Foundation were treated to a Dads and Lads morning of sailing, a captain courage ceremony, a tour of the Two Oceans Aquarium and lunch at a restaurant. Lawhill Academy kids and 9 Mile Project kids were also treated to a day at the Cape Town international boat show, which included the same activities. Their letters of gratitude afterwards were testament to just how grateful they were, and how much the day had meant to them.
All Optimists will be used in the new Little Optimist Sailing Academy being set up to teach sick and needy kids how to sail and give many children who have lost all hope something to live for, as well as to raise funds during the year for The Little Optimist Trust.
To find out more about The Little Optimist Trust and how you can support, visit www.thelittleoptimist.org or email Greg Bertish at Cara@thelittleoptimist.org. All donations and sponsorships are Section 18A tax deductible.
Pics courtesy of Sean Todd Photography