40 Degrees North: Where Change Begins

40 Degrees North, a venture by Todd Ellis and Shane Theunissen, was scheduled to sail from Halifax to Portugal in late May to raise money for the Nova Scotia Sea School.

Ellis and Theunissen met during the Wednesday night races at the Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron, where they discussed their love for sailing.

“I had this plan to go to Portugal, and I said to Todd, ‘Hey Todd, we get along pretty well, so how would you like to come along for a trip across to Portugal?’ He thought about it for a little bit, not too long, and then he said, ‘OK, let’s do this.’”

Ellis, who owns National Wealth Management in Halifax, often engages in philanthropic causes and youth engagement through his company and saw this trans-Atlantic voyage as the perfect fundraising opportunity.

“We were trying to attach this to some purpose, and any part of gratitude is paying it forward,” said Ellis. “And one of the things I wanted to do was shine a light on the Nova Scotia Sea School, whose programs encourage youth to participate in sailing. And I thought, ‘What a nice way of taking this journey and attaching some gratitude to this journey.’”

Todd Ellis, Shane Theunissen and Theunissen’s son aboard Footloose IV. Submitted photo

With a fundraising goal of $10,000, 40 Degrees North will be helping the Nova Scotia Sea School with its bursary program. Nova Scotia Sea School engages youth in sailing, where teenagers have the opportunity to go on multi-day journeys on the water to learn how to handle “wind, waves and weather with confidence.”

“When youth sign up, we don’t have a sliding scale, but we do offer bursaries. So, they have options of requesting between 25 and 100 per cent discounts on our tuition,” said Heather Kelday, Executive Director of the Nova Scotia Sea School. “This funding can go directly towards our bursaries, so we can offer flexible payment options for families or participants. Out of the full application of registered youth, we have about 40 per cent that will access some kind of bursary.”

Theunissen sailed from his home country of South Africa to Canada at age 18 to avoid mandatory military service aboard Footloose IV, the same ship he and Ellis will use to sail to Portugal. The ship is a Lavranos 36, a South African-made vessel of which less than 100 were built between 1977–1990. According to Theunissen, Footloose IV and other L36s are perfect boats for blue water cruising.

“I sailed from Cape Town to Toronto, Canada back almost 30 years ago now. So, I had an early introduction to long-distance sailing,” said Theunissen. “When you look at them for sale, they’re for sale all over the world. You’ll find them in Canada, England, Australia and Thailand, so the boats are really made for long-distance sailing, and a lot of them have done that.” 

The name “40 Degrees North: Where Change Begins” comes from the route Ellis and Theunissen will be taking on their journey from Halifax to Portugal.

“As we make our way out of the Halifax harbour, we’re going to make our way south to 40 degrees and then turn north, so we coined it 40 Degrees North: Where Change Begins,” said Ellis. “That will be our route and our passage as we make our way towards the Azores.”

The trip, in total, will take the crew just over 2,500 nautical miles from Halifax to the Azores to Lisbon, Portugal.

“It should take us about two weeks of sailing to get there, with about a week in the Azores,” said Theunissen. “And then it should be about a week from Horta, which is in the Azores, to go to Lisbon, Portugal.”

Theunissen will also be bringing his 15-year-old son, who will be taking the last month off of school to experience some sailing with his dad.

“My son and I, we both do diving. He’s an advanced diver and I’m a rescue diver, so we’re going to do some sailing around in the Azores,” said Theunissen. “I am excited for my son, and Todd too.”

The journey will be Ellis’ farthest journey yet. He took to sailing later in life during a vacation, where he got a chance to race aboard an America’s Cup boat. This experience ignited a passion in him to do more in the area of sailing. He thought that sailing would be a great activity to do with his father and reached out to him. His father had an association through the Woodlawn United Church, Garth Mallett, who was passionate about sailing as well. His connection to Mallett was what led him to the Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron and by extension, Theunissen.

“After a bit of time, I thought to myself, ‘This is something I’d like to invest more time in.’ So, I started to go out and race on Wednesday nights. Then it led to me deciding that we could involve more family as a part of the journey,” said Ellis. “As that started to take shape, I then invested in my first boat, which was a Catalina 30.”

Aboard the Catalina 30, Ellis and his family began to learn the ropes around the Halifax harbour. After getting his sea legs, he upgraded to a Hunter 32 to accommodate journeys further afield. With journeys to Mahone Bay and Bras d’Or under his belt, Ellis is excited to get more miles under his belt to get his yacht master certification.

“The idea in mind for me was to continue to get more experience for eventually someday taking on the goal and objective of becoming a yacht master,” said Ellis. “This certainly will give me the miles in order to accomplish such a feat.”

Previous to their launch on May 27, Ellis’ company will get the ball rolling on donations to the sea school with a $1,000 contribution towards the program.  National Wealth Management has also set up a webpage for anyone to follow along on their journey as they blog about their trans-Atlantic adventures at www.nationalwealth.ca/40north.


Staff Writer

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