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Local donations buoy Spirit of Bermuda’s prospects

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The Spirit of Bermuda in full sail in Hamilton Harbour (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

The Spirit of Bermuda has been thrown a lifeline with donations from the community assisting it to obtain a safety certification crucial to its survival.

Supporting charity the Bermuda Sloop Foundation needed to raise $150,000 for the five-year American Bureau of Shipping certification.

The approval is required to maintain the Spirit’s global standard for safety.

Thanks to a recent round of funding, including from the annual Pirates of Bermuda fundraiser which raised approximately $75,000, the Spirit will travel to Canada for required inspection and yard work.

However, the foundation continues to navigate choppy waters as financial struggles threaten educational programmes aboard the iconic vessel.

Constraints from a changing donor environment, dwindling government funding, additional compliance requirements and an ageing ship meant the charity last month cancelled all voyages for the next academic year.

The Spirit will complete voyages for the school year ending June 30, followed by a strategic review for a more sustainable model.

Guiding hand: Jay Kempe, cofounder and chairman of the Bermuda Sloop Foundation (File photograph)

Jay Kempe, cofounder and chairman of the foundation, said: “After generous support from the community and a successful Pirates of Bermuda fundraiser, BSF can confirm it is now able to send Spirit of Bermuda to undertake yard work in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, required for class re-certification by ABS.

“Obtaining ABS certification is a critical precondition for the range of prudent future options open to BSF for Spirit.

“Also, in addition to completing her middle school programme for the current school year, Spirit will now be able to offer a coastal Skiller voyage in mid-July that will have the mission to circumnavigate Bermuda.

“Skiller voyages, being coastal and overseas, are follow-up voyages to the five-day middle school voyages, which have become a rite of passage for Bermuda’s youth for 18 years.

“From May to early September, BSF will engage community stakeholders to develop strategic options going forward.”

If Spirit’s certification expires, it would lose “grandfathering provisions” that allow the vessel to pass an inspection based on previous safety standards.

To pass the more rigorous safety standards as a result, the vessel would have to undergo widespread and expensive modifications, which the charity cannot afford.

Mr Kempe said previously that without certification, the ship could have ended up being sold.

Steadfast rule: Malcolm Kirkland, chairman of the Bermuda Sloop Foundation (File photograph)

Typically the foundation organises about 20 weeklong voyages for all M3 students in public schools free of charge, although the overall cost of the programme is more than $1.4 million annually.

Malcolm Kirkland, the chairman of the BSF, said the Spirit needs input from across the community.

Spirit’s policy has been that no kid would be barred from going on the ship because of finances and we don’t want to deviate from that.

“We have to get the model right and we would like to invite the community to give feedback.”

Mr Kirkland said the ship’s marketing, including chartering services, involvement in events such as SailGP, and appearance fees overseas, helped bring in operating funds for the vessel.

These cover bills including approximately $200,000 a year in maintenance and repair costs.

However more is required to keep educational programmes affordable.

Mr Kirkland added: “The biggest issue for us is predictable income — the charitable work that we do.

“We need to address the number of students who receive a bursary or subsidy.

“We look at the number of public, private and home schools and there has been a big shift over time to private schools.

“As it stands, we can’t go back to free voyages for every middle school public student. That policy is not tenable.”

He added: “We want to make sure that we can optimise the opportunities for all kids to do this, regardless of means.”

The Spirit is expected to leave Bermuda for certification near the end of July.

It will spend three to four weeks in the yard in Nova Scotia before returning home.

Spirit's motto is “Changing lives, one voyage at a time, over time”.

Its educational programmes have reached about 8,500 of Bermuda's youth since 2006.

To donate to the Bermuda Sloop Foundation, visitwww.bermudasloop.org

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Published May 14, 2024 at 7:45 am (Updated May 14, 2024 at 7:10 am)

Local donations buoy Spirit of Bermuda’s prospects

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