Rub-a-dub-dub in an Optimist tub

Alliyah Sasman, 8, chats to NSRI CEO Dr Cleeve Robertson about Bob the sea turtle.

They weren’t a butcher, a baker and a candlestick maker, but two men and woman have spent 24 hours rub-adub-dubbing in tub-sized dinghies for charity.

Greg Bertish, Dr Cleeve Robertson and Maryke Musson had it a little easier than the three men from the nursery rhyme – they didn’t have to share a tub. Instead they each sailed an Optimist dinghy around the main exhibition tank at the Two Oceans Aquarium, starting on Sunday at 10am and ending on Monday at 10am.

The three took to the water to launch the Little Optimist Global Challenge, which this year, because of Covid 19, replaces the annual Great Optimist Race.

Various celebrities and survivors of life-threatening illness have competed in the invitation-only event in the past to support charity and the work of the Little Optimist Trust, an NGO that Mr Bertish founded. Last year, the event raised R250 000.

This year, sailors of any age and from anywhere in the world can sign up for The Little Optimist Global Race and raise money for charities. They will have to sail their “Opti” for an hour or more – on any body of water, anywhere in the world – during the race window from Friday October 9 to Sunday October 18.

The money raised will be split between the sailor’s chosen cause and the Little Optimist Trust, which runs sailing therapy days and water-safety training for needy children at its Zeekovlei sailing academy.

Mr Bertish, of Hout Bay, is also the founder of Shark Spotters and author of The Little Optimist, a motivational children’s book.

He said he had found it relaxing sailing in the tank, and added that more than 150 000 people from over 100 countries had already sought permission to come aboard for this year’s event, by either sitting or sailing in their dinghies.

“There are people sailing in their little boats in hotel pools, canals, or rooftops on buildings,” he said.

“There are even people having little Optimist dinghy gatherings and making the charity a fun experience, or in lagoons and vleis.”

The NSRI is also supporting the event, and that’s how its CEO, Dr Robertson, found himself in the other bathtub-sized dinghy at the aquarium’s I&J Ocean Exhibit.

Dr Robertson said the NSRI had come on board because water safety was a priority for the institute, which also does outreach work with children. “We aim to teach one million children a year to swim, which is important because it is a survival skill,” he said.

Also part of the experience was Bob the sea turtle, who kept them company. He and the other turtles in the Two Oceans rehabilitation programme inspired Ms Musson, the CEO of the aquarium’s Education Foundation, to pilot the third dinghy and raise money for them.

The foundation’s rescue efforts, along with the work of the NSRI and Little Optimist Trust, ran 24 hours a day, hence the 24-hour challenge in the tank, she said.

The foundation is looking for sponsors to support the rehabilitation of three turtles – Berty, after Mr Bertish; Dr Bob after Dr Robertson; and Betty Blue.

The aquarium has around 30 turtles in its care, rescued from the coasts through a “turtle network” of supporters.

“We are ready,” Ms Musson said.

“We have our sleeping bags and the cuddly penguins and turtles to keep us warm throughout the challenge.”

Participants pay R150, or a direct donation can be made.

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