Challenge Wales Dragon on Scottish Canal

Neptune’s Staircase, a dragon in Loch Ness and big big ships!

It was a wet morning as Challenge Wales left Oban, Scotland, in a mere 3 knots of wind. Passage planning complete, Fort William was where we were heading for and we were on a strict timescale to get there ready to enter the Caledonian Canal at midday. The Caledonian Canal is 60 miles long and would take us across Scotland through some spectacular scenery. As the sun was trying to break through, the lock gates opened and we started our journey.

Challenge Wales entering Caledoninan CanalAs we tied up on arrival, we were welcomed by some friendly Scottish people who had been watching our journey on Marine Traffic (a vessel tracking system) and had been ‘spying’ on us as we arrived. Fear not, they came to the boat armed with doughnuts, and Scottish accents, which went down very well….in the rainy weather!

Eating doughnuts in the Caledonian Canal

Tea break over, the next part of our day was to climb up Neptune’s Staircase, an amazing engineering feat and the longest staircase lock in Britain lifting boats up 2 0metres. Prior to arriving in Scotland, we had seen some fantastic pictures of Neptune’s Staircase in the Scottish sunlight but the misty haze of rain didn’t quite make it as picturesque as we were hoping. But it was fun and lots of people came and said hello to us along the way.

Of the 60 miles that makes up the Caledonian Canal, 38 miles are along Loch Lochy (we thought this was quite an original name), Loch Oich and…..Loch Ness with the remaining 22 miles being canals. At the top of Neptune’s staircase we decided to call it a day, and moor up for the night…and the rain was just about stopping (yippee!).

Wakey, Wakey! Another day, another new adventure in the Caledonian Canal and although we could say it was a wet and murky start, we like to think it was misty, mystical and eerie! Well our dragon mascot thought that peering at the low drifting clouds.

Today, Challenge Wales would be at the highest altitude and highest latitude that she has ever been at, which was quite exciting (certainly to the person who was tweeting back at Challenge Wales Towers!….in the dry). It was a great view from this lock and now it was time to descend from Fort Augustus into…..Loch Ness.

We were very excited to enter Loch Ness. Loch Ness is the second largest Scottish Loch by surface area and the second deepest and apparently it contains more fresh water than all the lakes in England and Wales combined. With all the rain we were experiencing we weren’t surprised!  Was Nessie going to make an appearance? Think of the press coverage that could bring us! The rain seemed to lift but being a little bit behind schedule at this point we decided to motor through Loch Ness quite quickly. Thank you to a fellow sailor who sent us a picture (below) of us in Loch Ness. We are wondering though whether that black blur in the bottom right corner is actually our wake or is it Nessie about to make an appearance and we’ve missed a money-making opportunity!

We spent another night in the Caledonian Canal, and the following day started our journey down to the North Sea. We were still waiting for the Scottish sunshine to come out and were feeling optimistic about this.

In the distance was Kessock Bridge, a focus of the Inverness skyline, which at some point we would need to go under (cue double and triple checking our charts and calculations to ensure we get under the bridge at the right time!).

Interestingly why Challenge Wales was crossing through Scotland she was encountering significant rain showers (did we mention the rain?!), and at times quite torrential. Back at Challenge Wales’ home port, and in fact in most other parts of the UK there was a heatwave! The Met Office picture literally shows the rain tracking the boat through the Caledonian Canal! Those onboard weren’t too happy with this picture. Good job they didn’t see us tweeting about this at the time!

Our journey through the Caledonian Canal was at an end, and that night moored up in Inverness marina we enjoyed (at long last) a peak of the sun and a golden sunset….with the water glimmering and now enjoying the longest day of the year we kept our fingers crossed for sunny weather the following day!

In the morning, it was goodbye Inverness Marina and hello to Kessock Bridge. We knew the last part of our journey before heading out into the North Sea was to go under a bridge. Going under a bridge with a big mast is always nerve racking, even when you have checked and checked again the calculations. There isn’t much of a gap between the top of the mast and the bridge, and even when you know you can fit under the bridge, most of those onboard the boat decided now would be a good time to go below deck, make a cup of tea, and not watch!

Well, we couldn’t not include a picture of what it looked like going under the bridge. Goodness it looks a tight fit! We did joke about sending someone up the mast with a fender. And it looks like that was almost needed!

From Inverness our journey would be non-stop to Aberdeen, so working in 3 hours on and 3 hours off watches we sailed through the Moray Firth, famous for its dolphins…and yes we did see dolphins.

Thank you again to the person who captured us motor sailing through. By now we were having a bit of respite from the rain, and the clouds started to disappear. It was our last night at sea and what a sunset we were treated to.

It was chilly on the water, but we were all wrapped up warm (apart from those who were snuggled up in their bunks trying to have their three hours of sleep) and we were enjoying the sailing. Our journey then took us towards Fraserborough before we would tack towards Aberdeen. Before we knew it, the sunrise peaked over the horizon and the fresh morning rays bounced off our mainsail giving our ‘Autumn Harvest’ coloured mainsail a warm glowing tinge.

A mile offshore from Aberdeen the mainsail was lowered and an hour or so later it was ‘Ahoy’ Aberdeen Port. It was our first visit to Aberdeen and we were warmly welcomed. We were a bit of an unusual sight in a port with menacing looking ships dwarfing our now very tiny sail training vessel.

Luckily in this picture (above) we were tied up just in case you did think we were being followed very closely by a very big boat.

Challenge Wales in Aberdeen PortYou can only just make out Challenge Wales in the picture above, but can you guess who is moored up in front of her? Yes, its Gipsy Moth IV. For the uninitiated Gipsy Moth is a vessel that Sir Francis Chichester commissioned to sail, single-handedly, around the world in and departed Plymouth in 1966 on this venture. So, two round-the-world boats alongside each other. Interestingly the last time Challenge Wales and Gipsy Moth were together was at the Queen’s Jubilee Pageant on the Thames in London in 2012 when we were both tied up in St Katharine Docks as part of the Avenue of Sail.

So after a couple of days in Aberdeen and after new crew and young people had arrived, it was a big farewell to our Scottish friends and our next adventure was to start. Halmstad, the Welsh are coming to have fun and be part of the spectacular Tall Ships Races.   And, to get into the spirit of the Tall Ships Races we departed in style, cheering and doing a Mexican wave! See you in Sweden!

Challenge Wales departing Aberdeen

 

 

Travelling could make you more employable

Taking time out in between studying, or taking a break from work could be seen as a risk. How do you pay for travel? Am I going to miss a promotion at work? Will I get left behind as my friends and family carry on with their lives.

Well, according to new research conducted by Hostelworld who surveyed 1,000 people in eight different countries, taking time out (from a month to longer) to travel to gain some worldly experiences might actually make you more employable.

The results showed that over 80% of employers believed that travelling made you more employable. 38% of those surveyed felt travel boosts confidence, 37% believed it increased people skills, 35% said that travel helped them adapt to new situations well while 31% felt travel improved their communication skills. When looking at those who had travelled themselves, 62% said their travel experiences helped them understand what they wanted to do with their life, while almost 50% made connections while travelling who helped them get a foot in the door at companies.

Who knows what is over the horizon, but travelling suggests something better?!

We at Challenge Wales think this is very interesting, as we are into travel and skills development to improve employment prospects, we are also keen on adventure so we looked at one of our own case studies and did a little bit more digging!

It’s a competitive place on there, get your CV noticed
The Higher Education Statistics Agency shows 73% of students are graduating with a degree that is a 2:1 or higher….which means there is a lot of competition out there for jobs so your CV has to stand out. A life-experience like travel can do that.

Skills learnt are transferable into a variety of jobs
So, what skills can a life-experience like travel provide me with: Teamwork skills (if you are working with others), communication skills and confidence (visiting a new part of the world you might have to overcome language barriers, come out of your comfort zone, ask how to find a bus or talking to strangers?), adaptability (you are going to be out of your comfort zone, the unexpected might be happening, your routine might be changing – so you need to adapt), responsibility and independence (you’ve arrived at an airport, you are in charge of yourself: it’s you, your backpack, your passport and your travel money!). Read our case study ‘From unemployment and into work’.

Volunteering
Your travel adventure could tie in volunteering helping you to develop skills and experience in a specific field of interest. Challenge Wales offers this, so if you join us for a week or two one year, how about joining us for much longer the following year! Plus, this opportunity is available for those up to the age of 75!

Giving you a focus
One of our young trainees was coming to the end of her university degree and didn’t quite know what she wanted. to do Her adventure with Challenge Wales gave her that focus and drive to pursue a career she hadn’t thought of. Read our case study ‘From Wales to the other side of the world’.

Representing Wales and the UK
Challenge Wales is part of the international Tall Ships fleet, and those aged 16 – 25 years have the opportunity to represent Wales and the UK at these cultural events that form part of the Tall Ships races. All of the above applies to Tall Ships Racing: skills development, developing drive and focus, sense of competition, dealing with success, achievement but also reflecting on when things haven’t gone so well. Our voyages can be life-changing. And, with Challenge Wales being just one of over 100 vessels taking part, you can spend a whole summer jumping on and off different vessels or use the event to take you to new countries before continuing your travel on land.

Sometimes you can’t get to where you need to go until you find a different path
Quote – Unknown


 

 

Adventure and travel inspiration on the water…we find out more at the Bristol Expo!

Adventure is often seen as an exciting or unusual experience. It could be a road trip holiday, it could be going off the beaten track exploring, it could be exploring somewhere not too far from where you live to give you a different perspective. But, adventure can also mean doing something new, stepping into the unknown and learning  from the experience along the way.

Adventure means different things for different people, it could be something you do on your own, with friends or with strangers and yesterday one of the Challenge Wales team, Vicky,  headed to Bristol to the Women’s Adventure Expo to find out more.

The Women’s Adventure Expo (WAExpo) is the first and only adventure and travel expo in the UK dedicated to women and this event had a focus on water.

It was inspiring to hear that ‘normal’ people like you and me can…and do… become adventurers. The room was full of people interested in their first or next adventure and the event had a great mix of speakers; Sarah Outen MBE who, under her own power, rowed, cycled and kayaked around the world, Beth French who went from wheelchair-bound to endurance swimmer and self employed single mum, to Della Parsons who went from an office job to sailor and circumnavigating the world on a yacht to name a few.

A few things that the speakers were talking about resonated with Challenge Wales’ own adventures and young people & adults who might be thinking of jumping onboard but haven’t made that leap:

  • Don’t be limited by your every day life and what is around you. If you want to do something and can put your mind to it then yes, it is possible. Your friends or family may not be up for it, your friends may question why you are doing it but if you want to do it then go for it – you will have a fantastic story to tell on your return and you will learn a lot from your experiences.
  • The toughest part is getting to the start of your adventure. Taking part in an adventure whether a week or a year takes commitment and money. But it was clear once you have made the decision to do something a bit of planning and working through things (such as looking at fundraising) can make a huge difference.
  • You will regret not doing it. We often find this with Challenge Wales. The stories of dolphins and whales surfacing alongside the Challenge Wales boat, the fun and camaraderie onboard, the various weather conditions, the team bonding, the singing, the personal challenges sailing brings,  the celebrations at different ports when we do events, the friends that you make and the experiences that you share which are like no other. We often hear “I want to do that” or “I wish I could do that”. Our response….talk to us as “You Can.”
  • You need to nudge your boundaries to stretch your comfort zone. Everyone’s comfort zone is different. For some this can be jumping on a train to a new destination never visited before in the UK or overseas, it might be experiencing a new mode of travel such as kayak or sailing boat. Trying something new can take you out of what’s familiar, trying something of a longer duration can test you, jumping out of your comfort zone takes you on your own personal adventure.
  • While you are on your adventure, others will be carrying on with their day-to-day lives. Whether you are away for a week or two, a summer, a season or a year the stories we were hearing is that you come back with lots of experiences and stories to share but little would have changed at home. Your adventure, might inspire others.

Thanks Women’s Adventure Expo for the inspiration, now who’s ready for a sailing adventure?!


Challenge Wales is an ex-round the world racing yacht but now offers big boat sailing adventures for those aged 12 – 70 years to learn life skills and broaden horizons. No sailing experience is required to take part. Our summer adventures Tall Ships Racing are aimed at those aged 16 – 25 years who can be partially funded through our own and other bursary schemes to take part- we believe everyone should have the opportunity to take part. if they want it and we work hard to make this happen.  Adult adventures in 2017 for those aged 18 -70 will see Challenge Wales sailing from Cardiff around the UK (from Cardiff to Belfast to Aberdeen before crossing the North Sea) to the Baltic in different legs. Talk to us today about your next sailing adventure with Challenge Wales!  The Challenge Wales sail training charity is looking at helping more women to jump onboard for our adventurous voyages and then to become volunteer crew.
For details of the next Expo and to get inspired visit www.womensadventureexpo.co.uk

There’s still time to celebrate Wales’ 2016 Year of Adventure

In 2016, Wales has certainly positioned itself as the UK’s top adventure destination.

For Visit Wales and the Welsh Government, 2016 was the ‘Year of Adventure’ bringing together people, venues & hospitality, Welsh destinations, Welsh activity providers and Ambassadors to put Wales on the adventure map.

Adventure is about discovering new and exciting places, having an unusual experience, being bold and just going for it. For some it is about pushing your limits and getting outside the comfort zone, for others it could be swapping GPS and mobile phone for a map, compass and walking boots or just visiting a new place for the first time and exploring at your own pace whatever your age or ability. And, the Year of Adventure is there to enable people to ‘#FindYourEpic’

Person on Challenge Wales getting ready to release the spinnaker

Getting ready to release the Spinnaker onboard Challenge Wales

Whether it is a zip wire, white water, wildlife & coast, mountain biking, castle, nostalgia  or festival that tickles your adventurous taste buds, Wales certainly has it.

With Wales having an impressive coastline, watersports should feature quite high up on an adventurers list. Rivers to explore by canoe or paddle board, wildlife to photograph, islands to visit, high speed boat rides to thrill and of course sailing.

Dophins swimming alongside Challenge Wales

Dolphin Watching off West Wales onboard Challenge Wales

With Wales having its own Tall Ship, Small Ship, Sail Training Vessel and round-the-world racing yacht that is there for those aged 12 – 75 to jump on – and yes, we are talking about one boat that ticks all those boxes – there has been no end of adventure in 2016 for those who have jumped onboard Challenge Wales. Some have been personal adventures, others have been memorable wildlife and cultural adventures.

Picture of Challenge Wales, wales' Tall Ship off Penarth Pier, near Cardiff

Adventurous activity near Cardiff

What’s more, Challenge Wales has not just been attracting people to Wales but has been flying the Welsh flag promoting Wales at the numerous events she has been part of this year on the South Coast of England, France, Belgium, Spain, Portugal and Wales itself.

But there is still time to #FindYourEpic and have a last adventure in 2016 as Wales’ Tall Ship adventures out into the Bristol Channel one last time in 2016 for a sailing voyage on Tuesday 27th December 2016. This voyage is suitable for those aged 16 – 75 and lasts just one day but is ideal to find your inner adventurer, try something new, do something different and experience one of the many Welsh adventures Wales holds – whether on your own, or with friends. And, with no sailing experience necessary to take part it is an adventure for all abilities. Challenge Wales is looking for 10 adventurers to jump aboard – could it be you?!

Challenge Wales sailing in the Bristol Channel

Have your own adventure on Challenge Wales

 


 

Voyages on Challenge Wales are suited for particular age groups but the last voyage of 2016 on Bank Holiday Tuesday 27th December is suited for those aged 16 – 75 years. The voyage is suited for those with no experience who are wanting to try something new to those with significant sailing experience who are wanting to experience an ex-round the world racing yacht. The cost is £99 per person which includes; a day on the water, training, waterproof trousers and jackets, life jackets, refreshments throughout the day, curry meal, fun, excitement and adventure! www.challengewales.org All profits go to the Challenge Wales charity which works with young people to improve their employment prospects through a sail training programme.