We started this adventure on the 6th July, leaving the Scottish Borders early in the morning for the 4 hour drive to Peterhead. The journey went smoothly; the crew of 9 young folk were in various states of consciousness until after we stopped for a break when talk quickly turned to what lay ahead. The plan was to sail around the top of Scotland through the Pentland Firth then turning south to sail through the Western Isles to Oban. The voyage was a leg of a circumnavigation of England, Scotland and Wales by Cirdan Sailing Trust on sailing yacht ‘Faramir’ 70ft long and 40 gross tonnes, skippered by Ed, with Pippa as First Mate and Boatswain Alicia. Our crew was made up of 9 young people and two youth workers, only one young person hadn’t been away on a sailing voyage with us before, five had been away once before and leading from the front were three young people who had become ‘old hands’ with 12 voyages between them. It was up to these three young people who were named ‘The Dream Team’ to support and encourage those less experienced than themselves and to take on more responsibility on deck.
Skipper Ed called us all round the galley table and we talked about what was facing us..... 24 hours of nonstop sailing in the North Sea in windy and stormy conditions. I noticed that our crew seemed unfazed and we slipped lines at around 4pm. We were straight into the teeth of the Force 6 wind which was straight on our bow for the whole time, the crew split into 3 watches and everyone quickly settled into their routine. Again, I remember thinking that this crew of young people appeared pretty fearless and confident in their ability to get the job done. The rough North Sea claimed it’s inevitable victims to bouts of sea sickness. The Dream Team were taken down early..... a side effect of choosing the cabin most forward in the boat..... Nevertheless by the next morning we were well on our way and we made it to the approaches to Inverness by early afternoon, deck clear and everything squared away.
Ed summoned us to the galley table once more and commended the crew for their hard work an application during what he deemed as ‘challenging conditions.’ Ed then told us that he had changed his sail plan and we would no longer be going north, round the top of Scotland. The weather forecast was not in our favour with worse conditions than we had just experienced just around the corner. We were to head through the Caledonian Canal to Fort William and then sail around to Oban. I noticed that the crew were a little disappointed and Ed and his team further explained their reason saying ‘we are just not prepared to put you all through that again.’ This decision was to be the most important one of the week. Job done, decision made, we were going through the canal. Regarding the canal, what I hadn’t thought about was, well everything really. The sail down the length of Loch Ness was spectacular and we were able to drop anchor two thirds of the way and spend the night afloat on the loch. Early next morning I woke for my watch, a 6am start and we lifted the anchor and set about navigating the last wee bit down Loch Ness. The scenery was stunning, the low cloud hung above the loch and we seemed to be the only vessel on the water.
We reached Fort Augustus and waited for our slot to enter the system of locks. There were a lot of people about, coach trips and families all enjoying their holidays. They seemed very interested in our boat and crew. We all chatted with people from all around the world and I was aware of firstly, how many different nationalities there were and secondly that our young people were very engaging and confident whilst they chatted about the voyage, the boat and each other. Even though it was raining, most of the people we talked to stayed with us until we came out of the other end. We even made some bacon sandwiches and cups of tea for the very grateful lock keepers.
A day later, we popped out of the final sea lock at the end of the canal, we were disappointed at the start of it but in the end, we were all thankful not to have made the voyage north and grateful to all the lock keepers and members of the public for being so kind, supportive...... and interested!! The instruction came to hoist full sails and we set sail on our final 10 hour passage to Oban. The crew now looked like a crew, heaving lines, working sails, plotting the course and making decisions with confidence and enthusiasm. On the way we were treated to dolphins coming over to say ‘hello’ and an even bigger treat was when I volunteered to cook my speciality, ‘Half the Boat Stew.’ As it sounds, it consisted of a bit of everything that was left. Nevertheless it was well received as the whole crew was famished (normal for the week) and they quickly worked their way through the whole pan. After cups of tea and a final sail into the setting sun, we arrived at our Marina in Oban. Work had by no means finished and an hour and a half later, sails we flaked, lines were tidied up and we settled down, exhausted for our final night on board.
A full clean down of the boat followed breakfast the next morning. We then sat down in the cockpit with Ed and his crew for a de brief. I was looking forward to this bit as I expecting good things. Hearing the young folk talk about the week and what it meant to them and then listening to the skipper and his crew telling the young folk their thoughts was the highlight of the week for me. Ed said that he had been able to try things he had not done before because the crew were so ‘on it’ all the time. Some of the crew said it had been the ‘best week of their lives so far’ and on and on it went.
Before we left, Skipper Ed invited two of the ‘Dream Team’ back for a week’s training to become volunteer Watch Leaders and as I write this, it is exactly where they are..... somewhere in between Holyhead and Bristol with a crew of other potential Watch Leaders who have all been invited back on board for another adventure. The third member of the Dream Team also has an invitation to return for Watch Leader after he becomes 16 later this year.
I think it is fair to say and the crew of young folk would agree with me, that things haven’t been straightforward for some of them so far in their lives. Some have issues at home, some at school and some with both. They all achieved something very special on this voyage, different things for each and every one of them but together they became team mates then ship mates. Our thanks go to the incredible work that Cirdan Sailing Trust supports its lead crews to deliver.
Emily, RYA Competent Crew, July 2019
‘I liked it how everyone got on because at the start of the week there were two groups’
‘Folding the sails’
Tyrel, RYA Competent Crew and Watch Leader training, July 2019
‘That everyone came together and worked as a team. Also I liked being skipper for the day.’
What did you learn from the experience?
That being skipper for the day is hard work!!
Sophie, RYA Competent Crew 2018. This was Sophie’s first time back after getting Competent Crew last year.
‘I enjoyed getting better at helming the boat and understanding sails and how they work too’
‘Lack of sleep. The first night was rough and it was impossible to get to sleep because we were being thrown around all over the place.’
My proudest moment?
‘There are two. I can’t choose between them. The first is when I was at the helm sailing upwind from the Caledonian Canal. I have struggled doing this before but this time I really got it and everything clicked. It was a great feeling! The second was when we went through all the locks at Fort Augustus. We met lots of people on holidays from all over the world and handed out leaflets and told them all about what we were doing. Everyone was really interested and friendly
Would you go again?
Jenni, RYA Competent Crew warded 2019.
I enjoyed being at the helm of the boat when we went through the locks at Fort Augustus. It was great to be in charge and have everyone working as a team.
I went up the mast to attach the ‘Go Pro’ to the top. I was surprised that it didn’t bother me and I would go up again if the skipper asked me to!
Would you go on another voyage?
Becky Johnstone, awarded RYA Start Yachting 2019. This was Becky’s first voyage at sea.
Working as part of a crew was new and interesting...... we were living together in a confined space and we needed to work together all the timejust to get through the day and get all our duties done. I think we all did this very well for nearly all of the time!!
I enjoyed all of it! Everything comes with the deal..... you have to commit yourself to everything to get anything back!
Rope work and heaving lines was challenging to me, my arms aren’t the strongest. I was able to lasso mooring lines onto cleats which was unexpected!
Would you go again?