Plastic Marine Litter on our Doorstep

Marine litter has been a part of Challenge Wales’ sail training adventures over the years. It’s taken teamwork to recover disused fishing nets that were just left bobbing in the sea and deliver them to a local marina, we’ve sailed past thinning, faded, plastic carrier bags and been nestled in marinas where a change of wind direction and raised river levels have created masses of driftwood and ‘drift plastic’ to congregate. Even on a quiet, windless day, white items of plastic including empty drinks bottles, sweet wrappers and straws can be seen floating in Penarth Marina.

Over the last eight months we’ve been researching the unfantastic plastic and marine litter problem to see how we can really make a difference. We’ve been speaking to organisations who are playing their part nationally in Wales so that we know who to feed our findings or research into, we’ve been doing some market research and thinking about how our future actions can link into the bigger picture….and what a big picture it is becoming.

Challenge Wales plays a large educational role within Wales. Not just in alternative curriculum programmes and accredited learning but through our engagement with children and adults within school, college, university and the work place who jump onboard and into our outdoor classroom. In 2018, to underpin our educational programme and youth adventures will be awareness of marine litter and one-use plastic with a particular focus on plastic water bottles. We want to help change thinking in a throw-away society and bring some new conversations to the table and the people, organisations and suppliers we work with.

TV programmes, blogs, newspapers, social media, conversations, radio have been great in raising awareness of the plastics issue but what next?

Like many, we watched the recent BBC programme Blue Planet II, like many (no doubt) we ordered the free Oceans Poster/Educational pack that was advertised after the show to help us learn more about marine life and the issues around microplastics and marine litter, and to share this knowledge with those who come onboard. With anticipation when our pack arrived we ripped open the plastic package it came in, and like many (hopefully) we popped the plastic envelope in our recycle bin. We had assumed it was recyclable, it must be, surely?!

Our plastic envelope had a 5 PP symbol on it. It’s got recycling arrows on it so must be ok to recycle, surely?

And, this is where awareness kicks in. We had assumed a few arrows in a triangle shape had meant it was recyclable and our local council website suggested all plastics can be recycled, but an online search revealed a Grade 5 plastic made from Polypropylene (shown as PP on the envelope) might not be. But surely such a powerful programme about our oceans and the importance of protecting them in which David Attenborough warned that plastic pollution was one issue that was threatening our oceans wouldn’t get the Open University to send out information in a package that was at the heart of the problem?

A quick call to the Open University, who had despatched the information, gave us not quite the answer we were looking for. But they said: “It can’t be recycled in your kerbside collection but you will need to find a supermarket that recycles carrier bags and they should be able to take it”. But if the plastic packaging was in fact recyclable then why did a packet of muffins with exactly the same logo on it have “Currently not recyclable” stamped clearly on the packaging?

So does this mean there are different plastic composites within different plastic packaging so that even with the same symbol some can be recyclable and some can’t?!

 

So, we went and did a teeny weeny bit of market research and showed 16 volunteers our empty plastic envelope that our poster had come in, followed by the unrecyclable muffin pack and pointing out the same logo, followed by putting our Open University/Blue Planet Poster back into the plastic envelope and re-circulating it. Gosh, what a gasp there was. OK it was a small sample size but it was proving a point. The majority thought that the plastic envelope was unrecyclable, with a couple suggesting to check it out with the council as it might be. And, with most thinking it was unrecyclable there was the shock and questions asked as to why was a programme raising awareness of plastic issues providing us with information in an unrecyclable plastic envelope.

It’s an interesting conversation piece! With our local supermarket advising us that they don’t do carrier bag recycling anymore it now looks like the plastic envelope that our Blue Planet/Open University poster came in….is not going to be able to be recycled and the consensus is that it wasn’t recyclable in the first place. But even if it was recyclable with the information we’ve received it was probably going to be disposed of in the refuse with the risk of becoming marine litter/microplastics and contributing to the problem. Can’t all packaging be labelled in the same way to help the consumer, clearly like our Muffins pack?

Challenge Wales is now going to be helping to turn the tide on plastic through our educational and adult programme and having more conversations like this.

Our first step, yes – you can probably guess, is the one-use plastic water bottle. The Challenge Wales charity hasn’t purchased bottled water to go onboard the boat since it’s been operating. We carry our own water (yep that’s a whopping 1,760 litres of it on Challenge Wales and an almost equal amount on Adventure Wales) so we’ll be discouraging (as we progress to banning) everyone from coming onboard with a single use plastic water bottle and, with financial support, our aim is to be able to provide ALL our guests with a refillable water bottle.

This is the start of our own awareness as we bring the conversation of one use plastic and the impact of marine litter to the table.


As of writing this our plastic envelope is sat in the office on the desk as we really hope it is recyclable.

Challenge Wales sail training vessel has Blue Flag Status through Sail Training International. Blue Flag is a programme of the Foundation for Environmental Education and we play our part through our actions and education in protecting our marine environment.

 

 

 

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?

 

 

TV Appearance for Wales’ Tall Ship

In May 2017, before Challenge Wales, Wales’ Tall Ship set sail for her adventurous summer the former MP Michael Portillo stepped onboard for some filming in Cardiff Bay for his Great British Railway Journeys.

OK, Challenge Wales isn’t a train but Michael was filming in Cardiff as his railway journey brought him to the departure point for Scott’s ill-fated, but most famous, expedition to the Antarctic. Scott’s adventure was onboard a Tall Ship so it was a perfect match that Wales’ Tall Ship, and Wales’ largest sail training vessel, was available to welcome Michael and his film crew onboard.

Although it felt like the wettest day of the year, Michael spoke to volunteers and young people about Tall Ships Races and sail training adventures before hoisting the sails and taking the helm.

We weren’t the only boat on Cardiff Bay during filming, our friends at Cardiff Sea Safaris were there behind the scenes and we’d like to thank Cardiff Sea Safaris for helping us out during filming and providing a high speed boat for some off-boat shots.

The Great British Railway Journeys programme featuring Challenge Wales is airing on BBC2, 6.30pm on Tuesday 9th January 2018 and will be available on BBC iPlayer for a short time afterwards.    It’s great that the programme is airing in 2018 which Welsh Government/Visit Wales have themed as ‘Year of the Sea’!

See you on the water!

Photo: Michael Portillo with Challenge Wales volunteers and young people (pic courtesy of Boundless Productions)

 

Challenge Wales New Vessel

Charity expands activities with second vessel

We’re excited to announce that we’re expanding our activities following the Challenge Wales charity taking ownership of a second ocean-going vessel.

The 60ft two-masted schooner, currently named Ocean Venture, was built for adventure and over the years she has circumnavigated the world, won First in Class in the famous Round the Island Race, raced in numerous transatlantic activities (including the ARC) and taken part in the international Tall Ships Races. More recently she has been used in outreach work providing teamwork and leadership opportunities with disadvantaged people.

Picture of Ocean Venture courtesy of Ocean Venture
Picture courtesy of Ocean Venture website

The new vessel will enable the Challenge Wales charity (which currently runs Challenge Wales | Wales’ Tall Ship) to expand its sail training activities into North Wales and strengthen the charity’s current activities in West Wales, Ireland and other ports around the UK. As the boat is slightly smaller than the larger Challenge Wales yacht she will be able to explore new ports, marinas and anchorages which were not possible in Challenge Wales enabling more young people to access sail training opportunities.

Sail training is about learning life skills which can build confidence, teamwork and employability skills. During 2017 the charity introduced accredited learning through Agored Cymru which has helped increase the number of young people it currently works with.

The project has been supported by the European Regional Development Fund through Welsh Government and through the Social Business Growth Fund, which is managed by WCVA (Welsh Council of Voluntary Action).

The boat had been based in Cowes, Isle of Wight, and over four days, Challenge Wales volunteers sailed her up to her new port of Penarth, near Cardiff Bay, in time for the New Year. With 2018 being celebrated in Wales as The Year of the Sea, the Challenge Wales charity will be using both vessels to continue to play its part in inspiring and developing young people in what should be an epic year.

 

 

A big THANK YOU to our volunteers

It has been a busy year, as we look back, reflect, reminisce and smile at all the great moments we have had.

But, without our volunteers giving up so much of their time Challenge Wales just wouldn’t be the charity it is. So on Thursday 14th December, we brought many of our volunteers together at our festive Volunteers Evening in Penarth to say thank you and to celebrate our successes.

One of Challenge Wales’ Trustees presents an overview of 2017 to volunteers and guests

It isn’t just the volunteer crew that were thanked but also the shore-side volunteers that have helped within the office, or onboard with maintenance and painting. The evening took a brief look back at everything we had done and my goodness what a lot of amazing stuff we had done!

2017 saw us welcome more young people than ever onboard from North, West, South and Mid Wales. We worked with more young people with learning difficulties and continued to welcome new volunteers into the Challenge Wales fold.

We also used the evening to say thank you to our funders who help ensure we reach the young people that need to be reached.

We look forward to a just as amazing 2018!

If you are inspired to be a Challenge Wales volunteer, then don’t forget to check out our volunteer page on our website.

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!?

CraftFolk Cardiff Christmas Market stalls

Squeezing a round-the-world yacht into Cardiff Christmas Market…..only joking!

We can’t believe how quickly the year has (almost) gone by. It didn’t seem that long ago that we were planning our Tall Ships summer of adventure, and then returning to Cardiff Bay after we had sailed over 4,000 miles, but there is still an opportunity to get involved with one of Wales’ innovative youth charity’s. In fact some of our activities don’t happen onboard the boat and this year we are excited to announce that we are going to have a stall at the Cardiff Christmas Market 2017 (cue roast chestnuts and mulled wine aromas drifting through the festive air and twinkling lights) from Thursday 9th November – Monday 13th November 2017.

When Challenge Wales | Wales’ Tall Ship attends maritime and sailing festivals, and we run open boat tours, we always enjoy talking to people about what we do. So being part of the Cardiff Christmas Market is an opportunity for adults, young people, parents, teachers, youth workers, companies and inquisitive minds to learn about an innovative charity that works with young people, an opportunity to speak to volunteers and learn about volunteering, an opportunity to hear about our adventures, including our adult-only fundraising voyages, get hands-on and feel what a sail made of Kevlar feels like (and yes, Kevlar is also used in bullet proof vests!) and be the first to know what’s coming up on the horizon.

For those who haven’t been able to jump aboard this year, or haven’t seen the boat this year nestled in Penarth Marina, and for those who want to learn more about Challenge Wales | Wales’ Tall Ship, you can come and talk to some of the team at the Cardiff Christmas Market in the centre of Cardiff for a few days in November.

We’ll be there from the opening night (Thursday 9th) for five days only (so our last day will be Monday 13th November)….but sorry, we won’t be bringing the largest yacht in Wales (she’s 72-feet long by the way)…but you will be able to get a good glimpse of her!

What’s in store on our stall….If you are looking for a unique Christmas present, then a Challenge Wales gift voucher for one of our voyages (including adult only voyages) might be for you….particularly if you are trying to buy something for someone who is hard to shop for! We’ll have those available to buy as well as our fundraising Challenge Wales bracelets! What’s more, you’ll be able to learn about our voyages, and how they have been helping young people develop life skills and move into employment.  We’ll also be able to show you how Challenge Wales is part of a global Citizen Science project with our Secchi Disk experiment. You can get tied up with our knot board and find out more about our adventure activities that can make your CV stand out from the crowd! And, we’d love to share with you how much fun we have onboard!!  So come and visit us…. we’ll be dropping anchor in between St David’s Hall and Miller and Carter, near the Hayes Island Café.

The Cardiff Christmas Market is a well-established festive event that provides a unique shopping destination and unusual gifts. Although Challenge Wales is only there from 9th – 13th November, the Market continues throughout December until Saturday 23rd December!

Cardiff Christmas Market pic courtesy of CrafFolk

 

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.