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Sailing charity in race to raise funds

Save Our Sloop: the Bermuda Sloop Foundation’s Spirit of Bermuda (File photograph)

A charity giving free voyages to hundreds of public school students each year issued an SOS to the Government this month, saying that it risked sinking unless it could raise, or even borrow, $150,000.

As of last night, the Bermuda Sloop Foundation had not received a reply from either the Premier or several ministers who were informed of the charity’s financial plight.

The BSF needs to raise at least $150,000 in the next month for its tall ship, Spirit of Bermuda, to pass a rigorous inspection in the summer. If the BSF cannot obtain certification from the American Bureau of Shipping to demonstrate that Spirit meets international safety standards, the charity may be forced to fold.

On Thursday, the BSF issued a statement saying that it lacked the funds for its education programmes once the academic year ends in June.

Yesterday, Jay Kempe, the charity’s cofounder and acting executive director, said that it also lacked the funds for Spirit to sail to a shipyard in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, for inspection and ABS certification.

The shipyard has told the BSF that the examination will cost an estimated $150,000, and the charity needs to confirm its booking — scheduled for August – by the end of next month.

Mr Kempe said: “We have appealed to the Government for the $150,000 — either as a donation or a loan — just so that we can get the ABS certification renewed before it expires in September.

“It’s important to have that because it will maintain the value of the ship, whatever may come in the future.”

Mr Kempe said that if Spirit’s certification expires, the ship will lose certain “grandfathering provisions” allowing the vessel to pass an inspection based on previous safety standards.

It would then be required to pass more rigorous safety standards introduced since the “middle-aged” Spirit was built 18 years ago.

To pass, the vessel would have to undergo widespread and expensive modifications, which the charity cannot afford.

Mr Kempe said: “We just couldn’t do it — the cost would be prohibitively expensive and we would probably end up having to sell her. That’s why it’s so important that we get Spirit up to the shipyard in Nova Scotia in the summer.

“If we can get certification renewed, at least that will buy us some time for us to consider what we’re going to do next. Certification is a critical precondition for the range of prudent future options open to us.

“But if we miss the deadline, It will be a sad day. If we don’t get the ABS certification, we have to tie the boat up, it reduces in value, and the whole thing just fizzles out.”

Mr Kempe confirmed that programmes would not run during the 2024-25 season.

He said: “We have made that decision. We just can’t continue programmes next year and we have stopped trying to raise big money.”

Mr Kempe said that it had become increasingly difficult for charities to raise funds, adding that organisations that provided basics such as shelter and food to the needy were understandably prioritised by donors.

“I’m certainly not saying we should be at the front of the queue,” he said.

But he added that the Ministry of Education had been “the primary benefactor” of the organisation’s work for the past 20 years.

The Government had been a “seed sponsor” when the BSF was launched in 2001, donating $900,000 to the charity.

But in a fundraising letter to potential donors last November, the charity stated that “continually reduced assistance from Government” was one reason for its financial difficulties.

The BSF typically provides 20 weeklong voyages for free to 13-year-old pupils at all of the island’s public schools. Last year, more than 300 children enjoyed spending a week at sea.

Although the BSF does provide excursions to students attending private schools, it has to charge a fee for those trips.

Mr Kempe said: “The M3 public middle school students are fully subsidised by the BSF and, therefore, we depend on financial support to provide all students with the opportunity to participate.

“Each weeklong voyage costs $25,000. If the Government asks us to provide 20 voyages during the year, that’s $500,000, although our costs are much greater than that because we also have expenses for the weeks that Spirit isn’t at sea.”

Yesterday, The Royal Gazette contacted the Government, asking whether it was aware of the BSF’s financial difficulties and whether it had considered either a grant or a loan.

No response was received by press time.

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Published April 27, 2024 at 8:00 am (Updated April 27, 2024 at 6:52 am)

Sailing charity in race to raise funds

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