Discovering new horizons on a tall ships sailing adventure

I spoke to Steve Scott, Children & Family Support Manager at Nottinghamshire YMCA, about sailing across the Solent with young people from our hostel in Mansfield.

Here’s what happened on their voyage of adventure, learning, and most importantly, of self-discovery…

How did the opportunity to sail on these impressive ships come about?

“The Tall Ships Youth Trust is a sail training charity dedicated to the personal development of young people. A few of our staff are big into sailing and it seemed like a really exciting thing to do, to provide this experience for young people.

We took a five-day trip with a group from our youth hostel in Mansfield and YMCA Coventry and Warwickshire from Portsmouth to Cowes (Isle of Wight) to Poole and all the way back again!

At our hostel in Mansfield, we work with people aged 16 to 25 who are homeless and often have complex needs. This trip was an opportunity for some of these young people to learn about themselves, each other, and what they are capable of.

We all worked together as crew on the ships and it was great because the young resident members met new friends. They saw that they were not alone and they all helped to support each other.”

What kind of things did you and the crew have to do onboard?

“As well as learning to sail, the resident members from Mansfield were responsible for running the ship 24/7, which included learning to navigate and read charts, rigging, tying complicated knots, as well as assisting in the galley. It was not an easy job!! But they all pulled their own weight and took it as an opportunity to improve themselves and their outlook on life.

All of the young people from the Mansfield hostel have struggled with personal problems, but on a ship you can’t run away from anything and you have to face challenges head on.

As an example, one young man overcame huge personal fears and social anxiety to become part of the crew. He was previously involved with gang activity and has struggled with understanding rules and boundaries. After the trip, he found the confidence to communicate his needs in a more progressive way with the support team at the Mansfield hostel. He even gained a Royal Yacht Association qualification!”

That’s really incredible. Were there any other challenges that you had to overcome as a team?

“There were loads of obstacles that we had to overcome, a few squalls where everyone had to band together and work together to keep the ship upright, man overboard practise where they had to work as a team to save a floating buoy (we couldn’t use a real person, obviously).

The First Mate on our trip was learning to be a Skipper, so we got the chance to take part in a load of exciting training exercises. They learned about the importance of rules and why we have them – to keep safe! For example, being clipped onto the boat becomes super important when you’re in a storm.”

I can imagine! What do you think were the most important lessons that the young people learnt from the trip?

“It’s amazing how wide the Solent seems when you’re sailing it! We sailed back from East Cowes to Portsmouth at night and it was really exciting tracking the route and using all of the navigation technology, they were so into it.

Everyone found a job that they could do. They learned so many valuable skills on the trip, even things like cooking because we had to make all our food on board! It was very temping to explore the places we rested in, but the resident members were really responsible and stayed on board the whole time.

What was really cool is that in just over a week, I could see that they were starting to manage their anger differently. At the start they would kick off and shout and by the end they were talking rationally and controlling their emotions. They didn’t rely on alcohol or smoking to get them through the day, they were fully immersed in the tasks that they needed to do.

They have come back feeling optimistic about their futures; one young resident knows that he wants to pursue an active, outdoors-based career, and another is joining the army.”

Do you think that opportunities like this, to try something new, help to develop young people in a positive way?

“I think that giving young people opportunities and chances to try something new, to have access to varied and exciting activities, is really important. It helps them to be resilient and teaches them how to deal with obstacles.

It’s what we deliver with all of our programmes: Camp Williams, Adventure Guides, outdoor education, The Young Creatives, they’re all about learning new things in a safe environment and forming positive relationships with adult role models and other young people. I hope we get to do more tall trips sailing in the future because it was honestly one of the coolest things I’ve ever done, and I know the rest of the crew feel exactly the same way. Here’s to reaching new horizons!”

Thank you to the Tall Ships trust and YMCA Coventry and Warwickshire for making this trip possible.

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