Since 1992, volunteers affiliated with the worldwide Sea Scouting movement have been imparting nautical skills to Cook Islands youth. Their tools have been two 5.2-metre wooden cutters – gifts from the New Zealand Sea Scouts in the 1980s.
Sometime in 2013, the cutters fell out of serviceable shape – a local boat repairman declared them unseaworthy – and the Avarua Harbour chapter of the Sea Scouts disbanded.
In 2015, the Cook Foundation granted the Scouts’ request for funding to refurbish the cutters. The money covers the cost of materials and professional input, and a team of volunteers is undertaking most of the labour.
Sea Scouts leader Tangi Tereapii, a Wood Badge-carrying Scout who has been leading the local chapter since its inception, looks forward to being able to reconvene his scouts – boys and girls who range in age from six to 16. He teaches them to rig sailboats, prepare and use safety equipment, tie knots, and read the sea – all vital skills for people who call the islands home.
Ron Bird, a part-time Cook Islands resident who has been involved in Sea Scouts for 62 of his 73 years, is passionate about educating Pacific youth about seamanship and sea safety; he attends regional conferences on behalf of Sea
Scouting chapters in Oceania and facilitates donations of equipment and lifejackets to Sea Scouts in the islands.
Bird is troubled by the apparent lack of sea safety training among locals and the lack of signage and briefing provided for tourists who use the sea. He refers to a recent example of a tourist drowning after hiring what he alleges was a defective kayak.
“We’ve got to raise awareness starting at the level of children… We’ve got to get young people to say, ‘Dad, going out beyond the reef without a lifejacket and radio is no longer acceptable,’” he says. “Now that we’re getting the boats up and running again, we can offer this programme for youth.”