You can never be too old or too young to enjoy sailing and feeling the wind take you on a new adventure. Sailing is so invigorating for wellbeing and mental health, it should be available and open to all. Yet it can be hard for young people to experience sailing if their parents aren’t already sailors or if they are from a disadvantaged background. One project has set out to successfully change this imbalance, convinced that sailing holds some of the answers to the development of young people.
In the 1960s, Lord Amory, Chancellor of the Exchequer, founded the volunteer-based organisation, Rona Sailing Project to help young people experience the challenge of a voyage. He’d been keeping his yacht on the Medway, but due to his ministerial commitments was not always able to organise a crew to go sailing. The solution was to invite scouts from Westminster Sea Scouts to sail with himself and other leaders. In his role as Chief Scout Commissioner, word soon spread and there were lots of young scouts and sea cadets benefitting from the experience. The decision was made to purchase the project’s original boat, Rona, to provide regular opportunities.
Taking thousands of young people to sea
During the last 50 years, the project has taken to sea some 20,000 young people from a wide variety of backgrounds, including from social and probation services. For the last 15 years, the project has included girls and now there is an equal split of girls and boys going out sailing. Lord Amory’s family are still involved and sit on the board of trustees.
The project takes up to 13 young people at a time on each of the three vessels, on a sailing adventure along the UK’s southern coast, or across to France and around the Channel Islands on a six-day sail. They are given responsibility, learn to be resourceful and contribute to the teamwork needed to be part of a crew. Alongside the hard work is the joy of remote anchorages, sandy beaches, BBQs and stopping at lively ports to enjoy cafe culture.
Changing young lives
Ann Bowers, Project Secretary at Rona, has been involved since 1998 and says: “We recently had a young person go out sailing. His parents were concerned about him going sailing but he took to it like a duck to water. He found a purpose and now he has started volunteering with us. His parents told us it has been life changing for him.
“We’re finding we’re getting more and more demand from young carers. They might not be in school full time and won’t have formed full relationships with other young people because of their caring responsibilities. They often feel isolated and it can be hard for them to find support. Coming sailing with us offers them the chance to mix with other young people and have some respite from their caring responsibilities.
“We usually take one or two young people from each school so that there is a mix on each boat. This means that they are living and interacting with people from walks of life they may not have experienced before but might in the future. It costs the project £650 per person for a week of sailing but we only charge £200 per voyage. Support from the Amory Trust, ASTO, Searle Family Trust sundry donations and donations from our Afterguard volunteers enable us to offer sailing at an affordable price, which makes it accessible to a broad range of people.”
Giving back to help those in need
Around 400 volunteers support the project, including skippers, mates, watch officers and watch leaders. The volunteers make up the Afterguard six-man crew that look after the young people on each voyage. The crew includes a skipper, mate, two watch officers and two watch leaders.
The majority of volunteers began as trainees with the project and return to give back their time to help others in need. To become a volunteer, you need to be over 16 years of age, RYA certified, checked by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) and take part in a refit weekend, a familiarisation voyage and a sail training voyage each year.
Help them support others
Ann adds: “We find young people feel more confident and have more self-esteem after overcoming the challenges they face sailing as part of a team. We’ve been told they have got into less trouble at school and parents have said they have noticed a real difference.”
A teacher from a school in Penzance said: “The students have been enthusing about it continuously since we got back and the staff at all levels have really noticed a difference in them all.”
You can support their work by making a donation to the Rona Sailing Project.