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Alumni Stories

Setting sail for a brighter future

From surveyor to missionary and founder of the Sails Ocean Sails program (S.O.S.), Peter Gately has come a long way since his graduation from CCAE in 1989. An education student at the time, Peter has taken his teaching skills into maritime training schools overseas where fishermen are in desperate need of lifesaving training.

While doing missionary work from 2000 in the Pacific Islands, Peter became aware of a little-known problem. Fishermen rely on dinghies to take them out to sea and while these motorised vehicles are useful, they can pose a huge problem when they run out of petrol or have engine trouble far from land. Fishermen have been known to drift for days or weeks before getting back to shore, or to never make it back at all.

In 2005, Peter started Sails Ocean Sails (S.O.S) as a program to redistribute old sails from Australian sailing and yachting clubs to fishermen in developing countries. For these fishermen, having a sail onboard is an insurance policy in case their engine stops running.Peter giving sails to a group in Timor Leste

S.O.S. has sent letters to sailing and yachting clubs not only in Australia, but to New Zealand and even as far as France. Some of the program’s benefactors include former Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer and Lindsay Fox.

“It’s an awareness program to get people to think about and do something with what they have rather than throwing it out,” Peter explained.

Peter’s journey has taken him to over a dozen countries in the simple quest to give a little where it means a lot.

The kickstartPeter with sail

Peter has been a recreational sailor since his early days in Manly, Sydney. A near-death experience pushed him to charity work. Lost at sea, he once spent five minutes underwater and lived to tell the tale.

“I thought maybe I should give something back because I shouldn’t really be here anyway,” he said with a laugh.

With support from the Pope, he started S.O.S. with no external funding so that others could have a chance to be as fortunate as him.

Wind in his sails

In 2006, Peter travelled to Samoa to hand over 30 sails. Since then, Peter has travelled to Africa, in Zanzibar, the Seychelles and Mauritius to deliver 10 times as many sails. The sails are volunteered from across Australia along with any old sailing equipment including pulleys, compasses, sails, masts, and stays.

“The idea is to get people involved, to think outside the square and actually do something for someone else,” Peter said.

The entirety of the program is self-funded. It takes around ten thousand dollars to run it each year. For Peter, the cost is worth it.

These are projects that get people to not just give them hand-outs, but a hand up.

After that first trip to Western Samoa, Peter received a plaque from the Samoan Prime Minister who expressed his gratitude over this initiative.

Maritime Schools and his time at CCAE

Acknowledging the old saying of ‘teach a man to fish’, Peter wasn’t just in Western Samoa to hand out sails. He also gave sailing demonstrations and a lecture at the Maritime Training School at the University of Samoa. Two years later, he taught in Zanzibar and a Maritime Training School in Mahé, Seychelles, offering lessons in sailing and “safety at sea”. He also visited a school in Mauritius where he gave recommendations that fishermen learn how to swim and that trainers venture out to the villages to teach these skills.Peter giving a sail demonstration in Samoa

Peter names teaching as one of his many passions. Having graduated from CCAE in 1989 with a degree in adult education. He enjoys taking his students over that hurdle of ‘I can’t do this’ to the look on their faces when they find out they can. He tells me this as he remembers his initial trip to Samoa with 30 sails.

“The wind was so strong, when we rigged up the sail, it took all of us to hold it,” he said.

Peter dreams of teaching in Timor Leste. In 2012, he delivered sails there and used his surveying skills to work on a sewage reticulation system there.

Towards the future

To keep his project going, Peter is considering getting sponsors but worries he will have the time to commit to Sails Ocean Sails as a business. He wishes to continue to raise awareness through his program.

“If we can get the sails out to as many fishermen as we can around the world,” he said. “Then there is a chance that other people will follow on.”

He encourages others to give back in their own ways.

“If we don’t turn our heads and say there’s maybe some little thing we can do… and it’s not a big thing,” he said. “It’s generally a small thing to us but to someone else that might be the difference between surviving with what they’re doing or not surviving at all.”

For students and graduates, Peter has one piece of advice.

If you do what you love, you pass that enjoyment to someone else.

And if it’s something that might change someone’s life, then you ought to see it through.

Words by Aline-Mwezi Niyonsenga, images courtesy of Peter Gately

If you want to donate sails or other enquiries, you can contact Peter Gately through his email petergately@dodo.com.au

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