Follow the Yellow Boat Road

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What do Bill Gates and a former crayfish boat skipper from Tasmania have in common?

Robert Pennicott is an ex-fisherman turned cruise boat skipper and is one of Tasmania’s most successful tourism operators. He’s not quite worth $50 billion dollars but this hasn’t stopped him from embracing the sorts of numbers that may be part of daily life for Gates.

On May 31 Pennicott and some of his staff were scheduled leave Sydney in two dinghies on a three-month circumnavigation of Australia. Due to bad weather they’ll now depart on June 2. But they’ve already started cruising for funds for Polio eradication. Pennicott is aiming to raise $39 million, and to channel some of the Gates’ billions to Rotary International in the process. If the $39 million is raised Gates will donate another $155 million (his foundation has already donated $200 million) to Rotary International’s End Polio Now campaign.

For the past 25 years Rotary International has been raising funds for the worldwide eradication of polio – poliomyelitis, or infantile paralysis, is a viral infection. To date Rotary has raised $161 million. If Rotary can raise $200 million by June 2012 Gates will, via the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, add hundreds of millions of dollars to the Rotary efforts.

According to Pennicott the Rotary quest has run into a wall and he is going to help raise the missing $39million, or at least a chunk of it. “I want to be the catalyst to reinvigorate the whole End Polio Now campaign,” Pennicott says. “Nigeria, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan are the remaining four countries in the world where polio has not been eradicated. We (the world) are so close to wiping out. But unless it is wiped out it could come back in enormous quantities,” Pennicott says.

According to Rotary polio infected more than 350,000 children annually before they began their eradication efforts. In 2009, fewer than 1,700 cases were reported worldwide. But the polio cases represented by this final challenge are, not least due to wars and geographic isolation, the most difficult and expensive to prevent.

Pennicott knows he’s probably not going to raise all the funds in three months. But that is not going to stop him trying. National Geographic has embraced his vision and his quest and are a major sponsor of his trip. They will tell their readers about the adventure and, perhaps more importantly, how to donate to the cause via their 6 million facebook friends.

And an adventure this certainly will be. Pennicott’s cruises around Tasmania’s Bruny Island and the Tasman Peninsula feature sea cliffs, caves and marine life and are wildly popular. Pennicott and his crews take some 60,000 passengers a year – into these spectacular coastal environments.

The circumnavigation might well be a three-month replica of the cruise which Travel + Leisure has described as one of the world’s 100 Greatest Trips. And the public are being offered the opportunity to take part in the circumnavigation. There will be 77 stages to the three-month trip. People will be able to bid for seats on 48 of the stages when two seats on board each boat will be auctioned to the highest bidder.

This isn’t Pennicott’s first effort at philanthropy. He currently gives 25 per cent of his net profits away. “I’d like it to be 90 per cent. My family’s wants aren’t to get really rich. It’s actually to be comfortable. And to put a lot of money back into the world.”

Pennicott’s passion for the environment drives him to donate a substantial part of his business profits towards conservation. In 2007 he founded the Tasmanian Coast Conservation Fund together with Wildcare. Their first effort helped to eradicate a feral cat population on Tasman Island.

While the circumnavigation fundraiser may bring further currency and cachet to Tasmania and may even indirectly boost the numbers of passengers on Pennicott’s thrilling cruises he says this has nothing to do with his rationale.
Pennicott is on a philanthropic quest and this is the first of other fund raising adventures he has planned, regardless of how much money he raises for the End Polio Now cause. For the way Pennicott sees the world he’s not going to fail even if he raises only $50,000. The figure will fund some 80,000 polio vaccinations after all.

Follow the journey, encourage or donate at

Rob Pennicott doing harbour trials for his Yellow Boat Road circum-navigation

Harbour trials for Rob Pennicott's Yellow Boat Road vessel

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  • admin says:

    The official site is where all the latest news, full photo sets and a regular blog by Rob and his team will be presented.
    The circumnavigation is also available through Facebook …
    Trust this clarifies.

  • Bernie Caffery says:

    Good on you Rob, what a great cause. Best of luck to you and your team.

    I want to try and get a seat !

    Bernie from Dalby Qld

  • jim sinatra says:

    Been on your tours twice with grandson Calvin. Would like to support with friends but must be clear what site to view and support legs….Was not clear on ABC news…

    Sincerely, Emeritus Professor Jim Sinatra

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