Inspirational South African Sailor To Speak

May 26, 2015

Inspirational speaker Neal Petersen – who overcame disability and racism in South Africa – is to give a talk to students at Saltus Grammar School.

“We are delighted that someone of Mr Petersen’s caliber is to speak at the school,” said Head of School Claire Charlemagne. “I am quite sure that he will make a considerable impact on the students such have been his experiences.

“I am extremely grateful to Dennis Correia for sponsoring this event. Without his generosity this would not have been possible.”

According to his website [link here], doctors told Mr Petersen as a child that he would never walk – but he went on to race solo around the world in a yacht he built himself.


In an interview on his website, Mr Petersen, who now lives in the USA but who is a frequent visitor to Bermuda, was asked whether apartheid was talked about among family and friends, or was it accepted as the norm.

He answered: “Because my mom was educated at Syracuse University, New York, and because she believed in the right to education, knowledge and free speech, she was classified as a terrorist, an enemy of the state.

“We lived in constant fear of the police showing up and hauling her away. The threat was always there. Most of our friends who were fighting apartheid were either in prison already or living in fear of arrest.”

Asked how a poor, black and disabled young man broke into the sailing world, he said: “I read Slocum’s book, ‘Sailing the World Alone’ and had heard Dad’s diving tales. I was boat mad!

Neal Petersen one

“Once I heard someone was selling a stranded boat and I went rummaging through the glove box trying to see if I could find enough change to make an offer. I had such a burning desire to be out on the water that I never noticed the critics. My dream was all-consuming and inspired me then, as it does now, to strive to overcome any obstacle.”

In the interview he adds: “I was raised to pity racists, to feel sorry for their blindness, and not to let their anger affect me. Even still, it hurt getting thrown out of restaurants or off a beach, but Mom taught us never to lose our dignity.”

Dr Michelle Squire, Citizenship Coordinator [S3-S11] and Citizenship, History, Drama and English educator at Saltus, said Mr Petersen would have some powerful messages for the students.

Dr Squire, who has organized presentations for students and staff on racial diversity and race issues, added: “Dennis is passionate about educating young people in order to improve race relations.

No barriers: Neal Petersen at TEDx University of Nevada

“He recognises the importance of positively impacting impressionable minds to foster better relations in Bermuda. The idea of having Neal address the students was presented to me, and I was extremely excited about taking advantage of the opportunity. Education is the catalyst for change.

“The Secondary students at Saltus are privileged to have the opportunity to have Mr Petersen educate them about the challenges he faced in life and how he persevered in order to achieve success. It is important to heighten young people’s awareness of the challenges people face in society.”

Mr Correia said that when Mr Petersen attempted his round the world challenge he ended up ‘crash landing in Bermuda’.

“A whole load of Bermudian guys took him under their wing, fixed his boat and provisioned it and then sent him on to rejoin the race.

No Barriers – The Neal Petersen Story

“I have known Neal from that incident and since then he has been a frequent visitor to Bermuda. I was talking to him and we said ‘wouldn’t it be cool to give a talk at Saltus’.

“I am delighted to be able to help Saltus. I feel it is very important, wherever possible, to address racial issues and the more people can be educated on this issue, the better.”

Neal Petersen’s talk is in a school assembly on Thursday, May 28.

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  1. Mockingjay says:

    Very inspirational.