Challenge Wales returns home after her biggest adventure yet

At the beginning of June 2017 Challenge Wales | Wales’ Tall Ship epic journey started as she left Cardiff in windy conditions, she is now set to return to Cardiff on Friday 25th August.

So before she returns lets look at a few top line figures about what happened this summer….

  • Challenge Wales sailed almost 4,100 miles
  • Challenge Wales represented Wales and the UK in one of the largest youth and cultural events in Europe
  • She was away from Cardiff for almost 80 days
  • Challenge Wales visited 14 countries – including Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Lithuania, Estonia, and Poland
  • Wind conditions blew in from a very frustrating 0 knots to an exhilarating 42 knots
  • 35 different ports were visited
  • Challenge Wales welcomed 10 different nationalities onboard
  • She motored through 3 canals (in Scotland, Germany and Holland)
  • The entire journey had different young people onboard for each leg on voyages that ranged from 8 to 14 days
  • Challenge Wales’ amazing volunteers donated over 9,200 hours of their time to mentor the young people and help the young people sail the boat
  • Young people were onboard for every day of our journey
  • Most of the young people onboard had never sailed before
  • The entire crew ended up in prison for one night….OK, it was for a party and the prison was a ‘tourist attraction’.

The reason why Challenge Wales was away was that she was taking part in the 2017 Tall Ships Races series in the Baltic. An event that is based around young people….so what are the stats around this event you wonder;

  • No fewer than 105 vessels took part in the 2017 Tall Ships Races series
  • These vessels represented 20 countries
  • Collectively these vessels had over 7,000 crew which each vessel being crewed by young people under the age of 26 years (in fact the rules are of Tall Ships Racing 50% of the crew has to be 15 – 25 years)
  • The largest Tall Ship measured over 122 metres
  • On one vessel there were over 200 crew (trainees and professional crew), that definitely beats our full compliment of 18!
  • End to end the vessels stretched almost 2 miles
  • Well over 2.5 million people visited the Tall Ships event making it Europe’s largest free family festival. Worth noting each port hosted the event for 4/5 days.

The Tall Ships Races 2017 Director, Mike Bowles said “The Tall Ships Races provide a unique opportunity for young people to go to sea to learn about themselves and others while developing skills that will stay with for life – it’s a proven life-changing experience. Young people taking part in these races become wonderful ambassadors for their home countries at the same time as learning about other cultures from different nationalities taking part. It was a great pleasure to see the Welsh sail training vessel Challenge Wales representing Wales. Challenge Wales is not only helping to raise awareness of Wales on an international scale but the Challenge Wales charity are to be congratulated for their continued commitment to the young people of Wales whose lives they are so positively influencing.” 

 

Emily (aged 17) from Llantwit Major said “I absolutely loved being on Challenge Wales. Working with a group of strangers, who then became good friends, in an extraordinary environment to meet our goals was fun and a great team-building experience”.

“I learnt that it’s ok to leave the comfort of your family and try something new” said Tyrone (aged 17) from Cardiff.

In the Tall Ships Races 2017 Challenge Wales finished 5th in Class and 18th overall which was an amazing achievement for all those onboard.

Challenge Wales is due to return to Penarth around 6.00pm on Friday 25th August. She will be sailing up from Lundy Island against the tide, past Penarth seafront and the Pier before heading through Cardiff Barrage. She should be heading into Penarth Marina briefly before heading across Cardiff Bay and into the Cardiff Harbour Festival for the Bank Holiday Weekend.

Thank you to everyone who has been involved in our summer of adventure!

 

40 knot winds and exhilarating sailing

Ex-hurricane Gert was going to create some windy conditions in the UK and this would mean exciting sailing on the horizon for Challenge Wales crew and trainees.

After a crew change in Amsterdam we left in light airs, engine on, to Boulogne, France. We motored non-stop through the night and at times with the very quiet chugging of the engine we craved some decent wind. But it gave an opportunity for those who were sailing for the first time (ever) an opportunity to learn the boat and gain confidence in helming.

An important part of when we visit ports is to explore and learn. We enjoy experiencing new cultures and that is exactly what we did that evening, enjoying a well-earned meal ashore in a quiet picturesque village although after a short walk around we were particularly drawn to one menu…

 

Les Gallois had arrived in France….or is it Les Welsh?

From France, our next stop would be the UK. It felt like an age since we had been in the UK (we had left Aberdeen on 23rd June) and although we were looking forward to being back in the UK and heading home, deep down there was an unsettling realisation that this was also the end of our amazing summer of adventure Tall Ships Racing.  The winds were starting to change as the UK called. We had to cross the Traffic Separation Scheme in the English Channel and then it was tacking towards Eastbourne.

We spent the evening nestled in Eastbourne and the following day the wind we had craved for certainly showed up!

The Challenge Wales vessel reports into the Challenge Wales office twice a day, every day, and this morning due to the strong winds, which would be on the nose, the Skipper advised that a short sail to Brighton Marina would be in order to break up a long sail to Gosport…..and as we left Eastbourne the winds were getting stronger.

It soon became clear as the winds strengthened that Challenge Wales wouldn’t be able to get into Brighton Marina and we had to stay out at sea. What was to follow was not just challenging and relentless but one of the best sailing experiences we’d encountered in a boat that was built for these conditions and a new-found team that were going to go through a bonding and memorable experience like no other.

Challenge Wales was built for sailing around the world ‘the wrong way’ into the prevailing weather and with the wind on the nose it was a hard beat to get from Eastbourne to Gosport. This is where Challenge Wales came into her own.

Over 40 knots of wind were recorded across the deck, waves were crashing relentless across the boat soaking the crew (if any wet weather sailing clothing manufacturers want to give us some samples to test we’d be more than happy to!), the boat would slam down into the waves…..but with it brought a new found exhilaration and excitement to those onboard. And when it was time for the watches to change over it was with reluctance that those onboard handed the helm over to the next person.

Tired, wet, adrenaline-fuelled and buzzing from what we had all just achieved (it had been a 16 hour experience!) it was 0300hrs by the time we all got into our bunks after being moored up in Haslar Marina, Gosport.

The following day, with the sun shining and a breeze wafting past our banner flags we couldn’t believe the epic adventure we had had the day before and we reflect that we wouldn’t have wanted to have been in any other boat, other than Challenge Wales as she helped us safely cross the high seas.


Farewell to the Baltic

After departing Cardiff on 9th June for our summer of adventure, this week was the week that we said goodbye to the last port in the Baltic that was hosting the Tall Ships Race series…..and oh my goodness, what a port that was.

Szczecin (Poland), became the sailing capital of Europe welcoming the Tall Ships fleet for the third time.  From small vessels like Challenge Wales (22 metres in length…and even smaller!) to traditional barques of over 100 metres the fleet arrived over a few days to the shores of the Oder.

Our racing from Klaipeda (Lithuania) to Szczecin had been quite quick enabling Challenge Wales to make its way from the back half of the fleet to the second boat in the fleet with the finish line in sight, although light winds then spread across the fleet which meant some of the larger vessels at the back of the fleet struggled to progress at a favourable pace. We were physically the second boat to cross the finish line and had our highest position yet taking 4th in Class (C). It was well earned by those onboard who had been working 3 hours on and 3 hours off.

As we motored into the City which is around 60km from the sea (!) (we were under instructions not to be too close to the vessel in front) the reason was that each vessel’s national anthem was played (note this was the UK national anthem rather than the Welsh one) which we weren’t expecting. We lowered our ensign and all of us stood on deck. It was a moment that felt quite special for everyone.

Once in port, the shore-side celebrations and events started which was an opportunity for all the crews to meet and share their experiences as well as making new friendships. Crews wearing branded tee shirts mixed with the formality of white sailor suits and trimmed hats.

The infamous international crew parade was a mass of colour, vibrancy, noise and music as we paraded almost 3 miles through the City streets to the Summer Theatre, Poland’s biggest amphitheatre. Representing Wales and the UK we were waved, photographed and cheered on by thousands of onlookers that in some places stood 10 people deep.

One of our trainees said about the crew parade “Walking around the City, waving at the crowds, it was like being famous”

Music and festivities were at the heart of Szczecin Tall Ships Races, spectacular fireworks lit up the sky, the boats glowed in the sparkle and thousands of people could be seen watching from the shore.

pic courtesy of Tall Ships Races Szczecin

Thousands partied at the concert, performers one evening were from ‘The Voice Poland’ while another evening Andrea Bocelli performed, all of which took place just opposite Challenge Wales.

Pic courtesy of Tall Ships Races Szczecin

We also had time to explore….this time underground, in the sprawling tunnel network beneath the city streets that were bomb shelters in the 1940’s. Bringing history to life and enabling visitors not to forget the past.

We saw spectacular sunrises and sunsets which always makes an early morning worthwhile and were amazed at the Szczecin hospitality. We were all made to feel welcome, nothing was too much trouble and if we needed any help or assistance people (in particular a big thank you goes to our lovely Liasion Officers Monica and Aga) couldn’t do enough for us.  We even had fresh bread arriving onboard every day which we all enjoyed eating.

Pic courtesy of Tall Ships Races Szczecin

Catherine who was onboard one of our voyages said “I would encourage anyone who was thinking about taking part in sail training as I believe it has provided me with really valuable skills that I will need in life; for example the ability to form an effective team of people who previously never knew each other.”

Photo of Tall Ships at Tall Ships Races 2017 in Szczcecin
Pic courtesy of Tall Ships Races Szczecin..and yes, that is people around the Tall Ships!

 

At 0645hrs (yes, it really was that early) on Tuesday 8th August we let go of our lines and waved goodbye to a City we truly hope to return to on our travels. One by one the Tall Ships fleet left, we were proudly flying our Welsh flag and as we departed the bellows of horns cut through the air as the larger vessels said goodbye to us.

So after taking part in 3 races, one of which had no wind, our final position was 5th in Class and 18th overall, a great performance as we were crewed by young people with most of them having no sailing experience….and of course that is just one part of what sail training is all about!

Our adventure continues and you can be part of it…


Challenge Wales heads from Szczecin to Amsterdam, then to Gosport before returning to Cardiff for the August Bank Holiday. If you missed out on this year’s activities then why not take part in 2018? Our schedule isn’t released as yet as we are still putting it together but you can sign up to our newsletter if you want to stay in touch. Volunteering opportunities are also available.