Round the Island Race Success

A 5.00am wake up call, a 5.30am departure from the pontoon and a 6.30am race start didn’t dampen spirits on Challenge Wales | Wales’ Tall Ship today, and after just over 11 and  a half hours Challenge Wales crossed the finish line in the famous Round the Island Race.

In what is the largest yacht race, with over 1,200 boats taking part and with around 10,000 participants taking to the water it really is  a spectacle like no other whether you are onboard or in the crowds watching and, if you are not doing either of those then following the fleet on the website race tracker can be pretty addictive too.

An early start for Challenge Wales crew means seeing a lovely sunrise

Challenge Wales, as a Class 0 vessel, was in the first group to start and as the cannon went off (fired with the press of a button by Dame Ellen MacArthur) it was a moment of excitement for everyone. For some of those on Challenge Wales it was their first Round the Island Race, while others had raced multiple times. But that didn’t matter as the exhilaration, anticipation and excitement was just the same.  Every 10 minutes for well over an hour another class of vessels would be facing the start line. Challenge Wales was the last of the Challenge 72 yachts to cross the start line. That gave us a bad start and in light airs which would be reducing through the morning, a bad start wasn’t what was needed.

The Challenge Wales charity uses Round the Island Race as one of its adult fundraisers which helps raise awareness of the sail training charity and also helps bring in revenue into the organisation to support our youth development programme, providing life skills to young people. It’s also one of the only opportunities where you will get to see several Challenge 72 yachts racing together against each other. And a great teambuilding event for companies, colleagues, friends or someone on their own to join in with.



An hour and a half into the race and we were making good progress and swapping places with the other Challenge boats.

As we went past the Needles, the spinnaker came out and as a spectator it is quite spectacular too see hundreds and hundreds of boats, all shapes and sizes turning into a mass of colour.

Pic of Challenge Wales  by Paul Wyeth on Round the Island Race website

Although we seemed well ahead of the other Challenge Boats we knew with light airs and tide it could be anyone’s race.

Challenge Wales managed to make good use of the wind and having a competitive skipper and team onboard and sailed ahead of the other Challenge 72’s.

At 1515hrs it looked like we were well ahead of the other Challenge 72’s but that almost changed as we ended up with little wind

A couple of hours later the wind dropped and it wasn’t until a couple of hours after that the wind started to pick up and we were able to gain some speed again and get across the finish line.

We finished the race,  beating again the other Challenge 72’s and the Clipper fleet, a few minutes after 1800hrs. Our elapsed time was 11 hours 34 minutes and 36 seconds, 18th in class and 283rd overall (which we don’t think is too bad seeing that 1,204 vessels started!). Here’s to next year…maybe!?

 

 

 

 

Turn the Tide on Plastic Skipper Helps Launch Environmental Project

Volvo Ocean Race skipper, Dee Caffari helped launched Challenge Wales’ Environmental Project at the Volvo Ocean Race Village, Cardiff Bay.

Dee Caffari Challenge Wales Volvo Ocean Race Village

On 31st May, guests and volunteers turned up initially onboard Challenge Wales for a tour of the vessel,  before heading off to the eco-lounge in the Volvo Ocean Race village to hear Dee’s stories of adventure, the fight against the tide of plastic that is infiltrating even the remotest parts of the world and to hear more about the accredited learning opportunities and life-changing work that the Challenge Wales charity provides. With compostable cups holding tea and coffee in hand, everyone listened intently to what Dee had to say.

The Environmental Project is the latest addition to the Challenge Wales programme to give young people who participate on sailing days and voyages an opportunity to get an accredited qualification to add to their CV, while improving a host of life-skills through the process of hands-on big boat sailing and its development is part of the charity’s Voyages of Discovery Big Lottery funded project.

As skipper of Turn the Tide on Plastic the 65ft Volvo Ocean Race yacht, which is enjoying a stopover at Cardiff, Dee is trying to educate people about the danger of disposable plastics and the effect they are having on the seas and the wildlife. “During the race we have been carrying out a science project to measure microplastics in the oceans. There were microplastics present in the most southerly part of the Southern Ocean! The problem is that you can’t see it, but it is everywhere, and everything in the food chain is affected. The potential health implications are enormous” she said at the launch.

Challenge Wales has been undertaking other environmental initiatives over the years including being part of a global citizen science project and measuring plankton levels, bringing science to life with experiences, working with the warden on Lundy Island to understand ecosystems. Challenge Wales has also worked with both Cardiff and Plymouth universities on marine-related activities.

Pic credits: Bekoh Photography

 

We're recruiting for new roles at Challenge Wales

We’re Recruiting For Two Roles!

Join us and share our amazing adventures!  As the Challenge Wales sail training charity expands we are on the hunt for a Mate AND a Skipper. This is a fantastic opportunity for someone who has the right sailing experience, fun and enthusiastic outlook and wants to help young people develop their potential.

Mate

The Mate will be supporting the Skipper in delivering the services of Challenge Wales on its two vessels Adventure Wales and Challenge Wales.

Deadline for applications:  17th April 2018

Click here to read the Mate Job Description

This role has been created as the Challenge Wales charity is supported by the European Regional Development Fund through Welsh Government and through the Social Business Growth Fund, which is managed by WCVA (Wales Council of Voluntary Action).

Skipper

For the Skipper  role we are looking for someone with enthusiasm and passion for helping young people develop and leading a team with a good helping of fun thrown in.  Could this be you?  You will be initially skippering on Adventure Wales (60 foot schooner) with opportunity to also skipper the charity’s flagship vessel Challenge Wales | Wales’ Tall Ship.

Deadline for Applications: 4th May 2018

Read the Skipper Job Description and how to apply

Any enquiries regarding these roles can be directed to the Challenge Wales office.

This role has been created as the Challenge Wales charity is supported by the European Regional Development Fund through Welsh Government and through the Social Business Growth Fund, which is managed by WCVA (Wales Council of Voluntary Action).

All Aboard as Mate Position is Filled

The only salaried sea-staff position within the Challenge Wales charity has now been filled and we are excited to announce that Shannon has joined the team as Mate, supporting and assisting the Skipper in delivering sail training activities, supervising volunteers, helping to manage the volunteer training programme and taking an active role in the refit/maintenance programme.

She joins at an exciting time as the charity has also recently acquired a second vessel.

In between servicing some of the winches onboard Challenge Wales today we asked Shannon a couple of questions about her now job and aspirations. Shannon said: “I applied to be the Mate at Challenge Wales because I wanted to be a part of the incredible work the charity does. A few years ago I joined as a trainee on board but didn’t realise at the time it was the start of many sailing adventures! I’m excited to now be able to contribute to other’s positive experiences and inspire young people to follow a different path in life. My goal is to progress to working as Skipper for the charity in the future and I am most looking forward to expanding my knowledge of boat systems and engineering.”

Challenge Wales is keen to support more women to get into the sail training/ marine industry and a few months ago was part of the Only Girls Afloat initiative by RYA Cymru. Challenge Wales is also running two ladies only voyages on 23rd June and 2nd September.

 

We’re recruiting: Full Time Mate

As the Challenge Wales sail training charity expands we have a fantastic full time opportunity arising for someone who has the right sailing experience and wants to help young people develop their potential.

The Mate is a key role in supporting and assisting the Skipper in delivering the services of Challenge Wales. Most of the work Challenge Wales does is sail training; helping young people develop life skills through adventure sailing. Our voyages take us over the Welsh horizon to other parts of the UK as well as overseas. For the right person, this opportunity is perfect for adding onto your sailing or youth work CV. You will also be involved with the refit/maintenance programme and supervising volunteers during this activity.

This role has been created as the Challenge Wales charity is supported by the European Regional Development Fund through Welsh Government and through the Social Business Growth Fund, which is managed by WCVA (Wales Council of Voluntary Action).

Read more about the Mate role including job description and how to apply…

Closing Date: 3pm, Wednesday 24th January 2018

If you don’t have the experience to apply for the above role then there could still be an opportunity for you, why not become one of our volunteer crew?

 

 

A Severn Bridge Spectacle – Last voyage of 2017

With the tallest mast in the South Wales area (by the way it’s 95 feet which is almost the length of three UK double decker buses), going under bridges can be quite a worry….but not if you have calculated it correctly of course.

Luckily, Challenge Wales | Wales’ Tall Ship doesn’t go under many bridges on her sailing voyages but our last sailing voyage of 2017, in November, had the perfect tides, timings and weather to head under the Severn Bridge (connecting England to Wales) and as we had only sailed under the Severn Bridge a couple of times before, why miss this spectacular opportunity.

With the Severn Bridge coming up in the distance, everyone was getting excited. Most people onboard had driven over the Severn Bridge at some point but to see the bridge from underneath was a totally different experience.

Interestingly, and we find this with all bridges we sail under, the closer you get the more you start thinking how low the bridge is and how high the mast is…..as did the guests onboard.

As Challenge Wales sailed closer and closer towards the bridge, a faint muffle of words from someone was quietly heard ‘Do we have enough room to get under the bridge?’ Believe it or not, there was plenty of room for Challenge Wales to easily slip under the Severn Bridge with several metres between the top of the instruments/aerials that sit on the top of the mast and the bottom of the bridge.

For drivers tootling along the bridge, it must have been an interesting sight too.

Sailing under the Severn Bridge gave a welcomed change to our adult big boat sailing days, to charging around the Bristol Channel between Flatholm and Steepholm Islands.

And, we’re hoping the weather conditions will be just as perfect for when we attempt to do it again on Sunday 25th March 2018! Why not come and join us!?

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.

Fantastic Finland and Lively Lithuania

Our Tall Ships adventure from Halmstad (Sweden) to Kotka (Finland) seemed to ‘sail’ by (pardon the pun). Although at times it did feel like we were bobbing around (oh, actually we were….check out our video!).

But once in Kotka, it was time to see the spectacular Tall Ships in port, take part in inter-crew sports activities and of course the famous Crew Parade.

As we said goodbye to our trainees in Kokta, we welcomed 10 more trainees onboard for the next voyage, a Cruise in Company to Turku (Finland). A Cruise in Company is the more relaxed part of the Tall Ships Races series as it gives the opportunity to explore new places.

A few days later we arrived in Turku and what a welcome it was.

We were proudly representing Wales and the UK and plenty of people lined the streets to wave at us in the crew parade, mind you we were doing a lot of waving to them.

Sail Training International reported that over 540,000 people turned out to the 4 day Tall Ships event in Turku, a record number for the port that has hosted a Tall Ships event no fewer than five times.

Credit: Sail Training International. Tall Ships getting ready for the next race from Turku to Klaipeda.

Catherine, one of our trainees onboard said the experience taught her a lot about working as a team: “For me the most valuable lesson I learnt was teamwork and the ability to form a close-knit and effective team from a group of people who were previously strangers”.

After the Parade of Sail in Turku, it was a night in a  new port, before heading to the start line of Race 2 to Klaipeda (Lithuania).

For this race, the wind was stronger than anticipated which made for a quick race and like many of the boats Challenge Wales arrived into Klaipeda earlier than expected.

Challenge Wales was first of the Class C vessels to physically cross the finish line. Which was fantastic for the team onboard. Well Done everyone!! Our final result with handicap is 8th in Class C.

Although we were one of the first vessels in port, and had now already spent a day in Klaipeda, today we decided to go out and do a bit of sailing to say hello to the square riggers that were in nearby waters. It enabled those onboard to get a bit closer to the larger boats, we did a Challenge Wales Mexican wave and cheered as we went past….our way of saying a Welsh hello to our fellow competitors.

We are now nestled back in Klaipeda….shoreside music is pumping out, the boats are in port, the party is about to begin. And what is on the horizon….more inter-crew sports, crew parade, crew party, cultural tours, saying goodbye to new friends….This is what Tall Ships Races is all about!


There is still time to join Challenge Wales on a summer voyage. There are a few berths available on the voyage departing the Tall Ships Races in the Parade of Sail in Szczecin (Poland) on 7th August to Amsterdam. Check out our sailing schedule…

 

 

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