Rotarian circles Australia in a dinghy for polio eradication
Top: Cameraman Zorro Gamarnik, Robert Pennicott and Mick Souter celebrate after completing the circumnavigation of Australia in two boats powered by outboard motors. Bottom: Pennicott and family on board the Polio I. Photo coutesy Robert Pennicott
Many Rotarians have gone to extremes to raise money for Rotary's US$200 Million Challenge.
But Australian Rotarian Robert Pennicott set a record with his fundraising venture. Pennicott, fellow Tasmanian Mick Souter, and cameraman Zorro Gamarnik became the first people to circumnavigate Australia in boats powered by outboard motors.
Pennicott, a member of the Rotary Club of Kingston, and Souter piloted two 17-foot-long inflatable dinghies, propelled by twin 60-horsepower engines, on the 12,000-mile journey around the Australian continent (including the island state of Tasmania). They began in Sydney on 2 June and arrived back on 11 September.
"Rotarians have worked tirelessly toward eradicating polio for the past 25 years. With now just 1 percent to go, I decided to do something different and a bit 'out there' to try to raise a bit of money," Pennicott said. "I believe it’s the weird and wacky ideas that get people talking, and I don’t think they come much crazier than traveling around Australia in a rubber dinghy."
The effort, dubbed Follow the Yellow Boat Road, has raised more than $250,000 to date, and fundraising will continue for several months. Rotary's challenge, which seeks to match $355 million in grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will receive 92 percent of the proceeds; the remainder will support nature conservation projects through a foundation Pennicott established in May. Trip sponsors included National Geographic Traveler, Tourism Australia, branding firm Green Team, and communications company Telstra.
Pennicott, a tourism entrepreneur who owns Pennicott Wilderness Journeys, began planning the adventure three years ago. He invested over $100,000 of his own money, which covered the cost of the voyage itself.
The two bright-yellow dinghies, Polio I and Polio II , bore the Rotary emblem on their hulls; it also was emblazoned on the team's jackets and all promotional materials. Gamarnik shot footage of the entire journey, producing videos of each leg of the trip for a blog. Satellite tracking allowed visitors to follow the boats' daily progress.
Along the way, business colleagues, family members, and friends joined the team for legs of the trip. Rotarians from District 9830 (Tasmania) organized much of the land-side support, and Rotarians around the continent hosted the travelers at various ports of call. At each stop, Pennicott spoke to media and the general public about Rotary and polio eradication.
"A large part of this journey has been about raising awareness of Rotary's work with polio eradication," Pennicott said. "As we traveled around Australia, I presented to thousands and thousands of people. With polio no longer in the face of everyday Australians, it's been important to educate the public about the effects of the disease and why we need them to support our efforts to wipe it out completely.
"Ultimately, it's exciting to think that we could see polio wiped from the face of the planet in our lifetime," he added. "Bill Gates wouldn't have pledged $355 million if he wasn't confident that the disease could be eradicated. We really are just this close."
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