New sailing academy in Cape Town offers haven for vulnerable children

The Little Optimist Sailing Academy will soon be launched at the popular V&A Waterfront. The academy is a flagship programme of the Little Optimist Trust, which aims to inspire children to look past their present struggles and find hope and possibility in the future.

Their main focus will be using sailing therapy to help children who are struggling either health-wise or socio-economically, to survive their mental and physical hardships. Over 90% of the participants come from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Using optimist dinghies, the children learn the basics of water safety and sailing. The therapy days also include teachings about plastic pollution, a growth mindset, and ocean health. This allows these children to not only have a fantastic experience but also develop a new skill or passion. It is believed that this type of therapy results in an improvement of identity formation, focus, and self-confidence through feelings of accomplishment.

The programme will also be open for private functions such as children’s lessons and birthday parties. Each paid lesson will be put towards sponsoring a child who can not afford to pay.

For a long time, this has been a goal of Greg Bertish, a big wave surfer, sailor, and ocean activist. Bertish says that this move was only made possible thanks to their partnership with the V&A Waterfront.


The children are offered transport and are supplied with a goody bag and a meal. They watch environmental videos and also go to a class at the Two Oceans Aquarium.

They also work with many children’s organisations such as the 9Miles project, St. Joseph’s Home for kids, and the Reach for a Dream Foundation. Bertish believes that the program could help up to 400 children per year.

According to Bertish, ‘Many of the kids do not even know what a yacht is or a life jacket. We plant seeds that help these kids so when they leave, they feel empowered, full of self-worth and self-belief and they leave with their medal and certificate. When they leave, they do so with a new skill and passion. We will do other courses that will bring them back at a later stage and take them further to the next step.’

Chief Executive Officer of Two Oceans Marine, Mark Delany, says, ‘This is an initiative that will change lives, and introduce children to the wonderful world of sailing, while at the same time giving them skills that can lead to future employment.’

Amir Yaghya and Shane Josephs are two instructors who also come from disadvantaged backgrounds and are now respected mentors for the children and in their communities.

Yagha says: ‘Greg had just launched the little Optimist race at the waterfront boat show, and I was one of the lucky ones to have been a part of that, coming from a development sailing school, the opportunity wasn’t always there for me, with hard work and dedication to the sport itself, I found a way to not only enjoy what I’m doing but give back to kids in the same situation as me.’