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.

Challenge Wales wins UK Sail Training Vessel of The Year Award

We are excited to announce that Challenge Wales, Wales’ Tall Ship, has been awarded the UK Sail Training Vessel of the Year by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and the Association of Sail Training Organisations (ASTO) at an industry conference in Southampton.

The award is given to a vessel which has had an exceptional year and has fulfilled both the Sail Training aspirations of ASTO plus the seamanship and safety requirements for the MCA. The award looks at good management, the sail training programme, innovations in the types of young people groups working with us, maintenance management and how results are measured.

For Challenge Wales to win this award is a fantastic accolade to our volunteers, who donate so much of their time to volunteer with us, supporters and staff and a great start to 2017.  YAY!!!!!

Sir Alan Massey (left), CEO of MCA presenting award to Vicky Williams and Andy Hall from Challenge Wales. Pic credit: Max Mudie / ASTO

Challenge Wales works with a wide range of groups and in 2016 has developed its sail training programme to include accreditation in Teamwork. Sail training opportunities are available for those aged 12 – 25 years regardless of their background. Challenge Wales works with young people in schools, colleges and as part of their DofE Award, and also works with those who are particularly disadvantaged and need additional support to jump aboard.

Challenge Wales announced as finalist in South Wales Business Growth Awards

Being a charity means working hard all year round to continue to make a difference. Recruiting and training volunteers, identifying funding sources, planning and delivering fundraising activities, undertaking strategic planning sessions to ensure we are on target towards our vision while understanding external influences outside our control can impact at any moment, working with beneficiaries and youth workers to ensure what we do is meeting the needs of the young people, evidencing activities and report writing for funders, developing ideas, consulting with stakeholders to name a few …..it’s ongoing.

Young carers working towards their Youth Achievement Award on Challenge Wales.

Young carers working towards their Youth Achievement Award on Challenge Wales.

As a visual charity (if you haven’t seen it, we have a big boat), that involves sail training on what is probably Wales’ largest sailing boat and sail training vessel quite often it can be forgotten in what is going on behind the scenes and what it takes to develop our volunteers and develop young people to improve their employment prospects and be seen as leading the way and an authority in sail training.

So it is always a fantastic feeling when we get told we are finalists for an award. As a young charity, it hasn’t happened all that often to be honest, but what a great feeling it was today when we were told we were finalists in not just one, but two categories in the South Wales Business Growth Awards. YAY!!!!

          

The Awards recognise and celebrate achievements across nine key areas of business growth and Challenge Wales | Wales’ Tall Ship is pleased to be shortlisted as a finalist in the Innovation category and the People Development category. Our excitement levels at Challenge Wales HQ are bubbling over, we feel delighted that the hard work of our volunteers, our innovative approach to learning, our positive can-do attitude directed at everyone regardless of their background and ability to improve someone’s own development is being recognised.

Youth development voyages on Challenge Wales

Youth development voyages on Challenge Wales

Sail training is often seen as people just sailing a boat but it is so much more than that; it is empowering, it is about developing teamwork and communication skills, it is about developing leaders, it is using decision making and planning skills, time keeping skills, it is about personal development and improving self-confidence. It is about improving social skills, understanding Welsh culture, wildlife, sustainability, it is about reflecting on one’s life before the voyage and reflection during the voyage in what can be a challenging situation and putting the skills learnt into an everyday situation. It’s about broadening horizons, giving people opportunities, putting a life-changing experience onto a CV. It’s about fun and camaraderie and meeting people from different parts of Wales, the UK and the World and understanding new cultures.  It’s also a nice link that Challenge Wales has been nominated for a business award and we are helping young people to develop skills to help them to get employment. We talked about the above in a previous blog post talked about “What price do you put on a life-changing experience.” It’s certainly worth a quick read!

 

Dophins swimming alongside Challenge Wales

Dolphin Watching off West Wales onboard Challenge Wales. The charity is also part of a Citizen Science [climate change] project to measure plankton levels using onboard equipment

It is great to be a finalist in what is often dominated by commercial companies, who aren’t charities themselves. Even small charities, like us, should be shouting about what they do and their individual successes (even when human resources are really limited!) as being shortlisted can only help raise awareness of the work they do.
Being shortlisted for an award is a fantastic end to a fantastic Challenge Wales year!


The announcement of the finalists of the South Wales Business Growth Awards 2017 will be on Thursday 2nd March 2017 in Cardiff. 

A look back at 2016

Well, 2016 has certainly been a memorable year for Challenge Wales | Wales’ Tall Ship and before 2017 knocks on our porthole, we wanted to take a quick look back at the year. If you have missed some of our blog posts this year then we’ve linked some of them into the below too!

January and February
The beginning of the year is the time for training our volunteers and taking time out of sailing to undertake maintenance as part of our Planned Maintenance Programme. It’s often a cold, but fun and busy time of the year.

March
Challenge Wales  was a finalist in the South Wales Business Growth Awards in the Innovation category and although didn’t win was awarded Highly Commended. The same week Challenge Wales was awarded its largest grant to date to develop its accredited learning ‘Voyages of Discovery’ Programme – a 3 year programme of activities for disadvantaged young people.

April
Trialled a SEA and TELL programme – enabling those under 12 years old to come onboard. Although there is no sailing involved, the young people get to meet the Skipper, try winching, learn about the boat, see where everyone sleeps and to try out the bunks themselves and ask the Skipper & volunteers lots and lots of questions.

April saw the first of many residential youth voyages. One of our residential voyages over Easter had long lasting implications for one trainee who used it to turn his life around and break the cycle of unemployment he was in.

In April, we were also shouting at the television encouraging our London Marathon Fundraiser Runner to make it to the finish line. Well done for the amazing effort & commitment!

May
Challenge Wales continued with crew training and undertook the first of two ‘Sailing by the Stars’ voyage. Non-stop sailing which also involved seeing the International Space Station! (Yes, we did wave to you Tim Peak!). 2016 was Visit Wales’ ‘Year of Adventure‘ with the aim of putting Wales on the adventure map and we certainly provided some great Welsh adventures this year onboard.

Sailing by the stars

Sailing by the stars

June
Challenge Wales’ sail training season began and we were excited to be one of the Tall Ships as part of the Seafair Haven Festival in West Wales. Lots of local young people had the opportunity to jump onboard. West Wales is also a great place for dolphin watching!

Dophins swimming alongside Challenge Wales

Dolphin Watching off West Wales onboard Challenge Wales

July
Challenge Wales took part in its fundraiser Round the Island Race. A race against over 1,500 other boats of all shapes and sizes. It’s a day that adults can jump aboard Challenge Wales and experience big boat racing, while helping to support the charity. Challenge Wales beat the other Challenge 72’s (boats like us!) and then Challenge Wales headed to Antwerp to take part in the Tall Ships Races – one of the largest cultural youth events in Europe! We picked up a trophy along the way and an environment award – Yay! While the boat was working with young people in sunnier climes, our shoreside team spent a few days talking to visitors at the slightly rainier Bridgend County Show...meeting young people, adults and potential volunteers!

Taking Wales to Belgium, Spain and Portugal for Tall Ships Racing

Taking Wales to Belgium, Spain and Portugal for Tall Ships Racing

August
Over the summer we sailed almost 4,000 miles from Antwerp to Lisbon, crossing the Bay of Biscay, Lisbon to Cadiz (Southern Spain) and re, Cadiz to A Coruna (Northern Spain)…and all with young people onboard who met other young people from all over the world at the Tall Ships Events we were taking part in. A first was having a whale breach alongside the boat! We also celebrated International Youth Day on 12th August amongst young people from all over the world in A Coruna as part of the Tall Ships Races. We then headed back to the UK to take part in Small Ships Racing with other sail training vessels from the UK. August was also the month that our Youth Development Officer started – a role funded by the Big Lottery, and the month we welcomed hundreds of people onboard at the Cardiff Harbour Festival when we returned back to our home port after our summer adventure.

September
Many young people jumped aboard Challenge Wales throughout 2016 to take part in their Gold Residential DofE (Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme) and as an Approved Activity Provider for the DofE, we were excited to say ‘Ahoy’ to one of the Trustees of the DofE charity, His Royal Highness Prince Edward. We took him for a sail and he was shown the ropes by some of the young people we have had aboard this year.

HRH Prince Edward onboard Challenge Wales, before departing for the rest of his Royal visit in Cardiff

HRH Prince Edward onboard Challenge Wales, before departing for the rest of his Royal visit in Cardiff

November
A Sixtieth Anniversary celebration of the DofE was held at Westminster Abbey in the presence of the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Edward and the Countess of Wessex as well as celebrities, such as Philip Schofield, Charlie Boorman, Astronaut Chris Hadfield, Comedian John Culshaw, DofE volunteers and award holders of the DofE. A trustee of Challenge Wales, who is also a DofE Gold Award holder, was invited to attend and it was great we could be part of this very special event…and get a mention in the special Diamond Anniversary celebration booklet!

December
As the year comes to an end we get the phone call to say we are finalists in the South Wales Business Growth Awards in not just one but TWO categories, Innovation and People Development. Being a finalist is a great achievement but we will need to wait a few months until we find out whether we have won.

When we look back on the year we can’t believe or volunteers donated almost 14,000 hours of their time – amazing! We celebrated this achievement with a volunteer event in December in….Santa’s post office! Where else could you host a festive celebration event!

With 2017 on the horizon we’re looking forward to new stories, welcoming new volunteers as well as familiar faces back to the Challenge Wales fold, helping more young people achieve more, offering accredited voyages for the first time and raising awareness of sail training and its benefits throughout Wales and beyond.

We still need more support to do what we would like to do and fund those who need a bit of extra help to jump aboard, but we wouldn’t be where we are today with the support from businesses, funders, young people, group leaders, volunteers, donors and trustees.

Happy New Year and we hope you will continue to follow our journey in 2017!


To learn more about Challenge Wales’ youth work, adventure voyages, Tall Ships programme, bursary scheme, volunteering opportunities or how you can support Wales’ Tall Ship visit www.challengewales.org

From Wales to the other side of the world

Opening up a door of possibilities can actually mean opening up a world of possibilities.

Often you need to have the motivation to find that opportunity and, when an opportunity then passes by, have the enthusiasm to jump at it. For some people it is more difficult to find that motivation spark to ignite the hunt for a passing by opportunity. And, how do you know that opportunity (and the experience that it brings) is going to change you, or leave a footprint with you, for the better?

Sail training  helps people of all ages to develop their self-confidence (and not to mention teamwork, communication, resilience skills and more!) and once you have jumped aboard a sail training vessel then it can help provide the lighter paper so when a spark happens a world of possibilities can ignite. And, that is just what happened to someone who stepped aboard Challenge Wales – with no sailing experience – who then got to experience new countries and now there is an opportunity for others to do the same as part of a free International Exchange programme co-ordinated through ASTO the UK Association of Sail Training Organisations.

challenge-wales-australia-scholorship
Shannon’s Journey – From Cardiff Bay to Australia

Shannon, who decided to undertake a voyage on Challenge Wales in 2014, applied in 2015 for an Australian Tall Ship exchange and this gave her the confidence to start a career in sailing – something she had never thought about. Since applying for the exchange she has graduated from university, sailed on an Australian Tall Ship, completed a four month sailing course, became a crew member on yachts overseas, started skippering and became a sailing instructor working with other young people teaching them life skills, sailing and getting them to experience new places…and opening other doors of opportunity.  Now back in the UK, she spends time working with young people and planning the next adventure. But this all started with a voyage on Challenge Wales and an application to the UK Sail Training Association, which she says herself, didn’t think would be successful!

It’s not the sailing but the experience that has been life-changing; giving the opportunity to travel, meet new people and develop skills and confidence you never knew you had.

What’s stopping you broadening your horizons?

asto-international-exchange-challenge-wales


Challenge Wales offers a variety of sail training voyages, many of which are subsidised for young people aged 12 – 25 years. A young person who has sailed on Challenge Wales over the last 2 years, and is over 18, may be eligible to apply for a sail training International Exchange. For further details please visit the Association of Sail Training Organisations (ASTO) website here.