Decked out in full wet-weather gear, her laptop wrapped in a rubbish bag on her lap, Auckland mum Emma Outteridge paddled in a dinghy across a canal near Buenos Aires, desperately hoping for an internet signal. The self-described "America's Cup kid", 38, needed to send off the final manuscript for her book, which she'd completed while living on a houseboat in Argentina with her Aussie husband Nathan, an Olympic gold medal-winning sailor.
"My dinghy was half-sinking because it was raining so hard and it's definitely a scene that sticks with me," laughs the author of Between Two Worlds, a new memoir about how she built a bridge between the international sailing community and a rural African village.
"It was a very momentous way to finish the final chapter after a rather epic journey."
Being a published first-time author is a dream come true for Emma, who grew up watching her dad Ross Blackman work on America's Cup campaigns, producing the sails and spinnakers that powered New Zealand Challenge in the late '80s and early '90s. She later went on to work for Louis Vuitton, running its international sailing hospitality programme, and rubbing shoulders with celebrities, athletes and billionaires.
"I'd always loved to write – in primary school, I was the kid doing a 50-page story rather than just half a page," recalls Emma, mum to Jack, two, and Charlie, four months.
"I travelled a lot through my 20s and I'd write these massive group emails to everyone I knew, with tales of my adventures. I always said I wanted to write a memoir and when I came to this small school for orphans in Uganda, I knew I'd found my story."
It was 12 years ago when Emma arrived at Kabira Adult Attention & School for Orphans (KAASO) as a wide-eyed 25-year-old wanting to change the world. She never anticipated how great an impact her visit would one day have on the community. Today, she's the founder of the school's Kiwi Sponsorships programme, which funds the education of 73 disadvantaged local kids.
"KAASO was created just over 20 years ago by a Ugandan couple named Dominic and Rose Mukwaya, and when I arrived, I was so blown away by what they'd done to create this school," shares Emma. "I'd been lucky to travel a lot, but nothing could've prepared me for what it was like in Uganda. It really felt like I'd arrived at a completely new world and I wanted to share that story."
In between fundraising for a new dormitory for the school, Emma went to the local markets and bought a collection of little notebooks, which she used to jot down every conversation and observation. When a boy named Henry approached her with a letter he'd written, which asked if she could fund his entire schooling, Emma was caught off guard.
"It would mean a six-year financial commitment and that actually scared me," she admits. "As a young woman at the start of my career, I couldn't solely take on the commitment myself and so I had to say no. But it weighed on my mind more as time went by and I wondered what would happen to Henry, who had big dreams and was so intelligent."
Emma sent out a mass email to her network, explaining Henry's story and those of kids like him, asking if anyone was in a position to help financially.
"I found sponsors for seven kids and the Kiwi Sponsorships programme was born!" enthuses Emma, whose book was released on March 25, a decade after she first started writing it.
"Funding Henry's education ended up being the best decision I ever made. Each year, I went back to Uganda and sent out the kids' stories to my network around the world and, over time, more people wrote back saying they'd like to be sponsors. I'd also talk about it at events and people would ask how they could help."
Almost two years after leaving Uganda, Emma moved into an apartment near Sydney's Bondi Beach, working in a local bookshop during the day and, by night, writing her own book at a desk she found on the side of the road.
When her first manuscript wasn't accepted by a publisher, Emma returned to the busy sailing life, travelling and working as the event manager for the Louis Vuitton Cup in San Francisco, where she met her hubby.
"I started travelling around the world with Nathan as he competed, and I took that time to rewrite my book and do an amazing creative writing course, where I met a phenomenal woman who became my book coach, helping me fine-tune the story," Emma explains. "But it wasn't until Nathan, Jack and I finally came back to New Zealand and COVID shut the world down that we were in one place long enough for me to properly complete it."
When Emma received a message last year to say her book was accepted, while seven months pregnant with Charlie, she was so excited, her mum thought she'd gone into labour.
"I went racing into the room where Mum was looking after Jack, who wasn't quite two, and I couldn't speak because I was crying and in such a deliriously happy state," she laughs.
"Poor Jack thought there was something wrong and so I had to tell them there are things called happy tears!"
For Emma, who is donating a portion of each book sale to KAASO, her next focus is a family adventure to Europe in July for the sailing season.
"There'll be an event in a different European city every month until October, but for now, I'm going to take a moment to appreciate that the book is done," she smiles. "It feels like such a milestone."
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