Almost 3000 miles later, Challenge Wales Returns Home to Cardiff

After almost 50 days away, Challenge Wales is returning home to Penarth today having had an amazing youth-led summer of adventure.

Having left her home port of Penarth Marina in June crewed by young people from Newport, Challenge Wales set sail for the South Coast for an adult fundraiser before heading to Sunderland for the start of the Tall Ships Races which would see us visit Esbjerg (Denmark), Stavanger (Norway), Harlingen (Netherlands) before returning into UK waters.

The rest of the summer would see young people jumping onboard representing no fewer than 10 different nationalities to experience one of the largest cultural, youth events in Europe as we represented Cardiff, Wales and the UK.

Those onboard would be racing, cooking, cleaning and running the boat…often jumping onboard with no experience whatsoever….but that’s fine as our volunteers and sea-staff help show everyone the ropes (literally!)

To get a snapshot of what was being experienced on Challenge Wales take a look at the film that one of our French trainees put together;

Although our summer has been fun, it has been educational which underpins all our activities.

From making ourselves more plastic aware and doing a litter pick at one of the ports we stopped at, to developing teamwork and communication skills, meeting young people from all over the world and understanding and accepting different cultures, to working in watches and strict routines, to broadening horizons and developing confidence and making new friends through adventure – It’s sail training in action. We are also proud to have given every young person who joined us a reusable drinks bottle to use during the voyage and to take home afterwards in our efforts to educate young people on the damage one-use plastic is doing to the environment.

49 young people have jumped onboard over the last few weeks, some were doing their Gold DofE, some were wanting to put something different onto their CV, some were onboard as they were deserving of a place and had been nominated for the experience while others were onboard working on an accredited environmental project. What was really good to see was that some of the young people who booked onto one leg, asked to stay on for the next voyage…so we must be doing something really special for that to happen!

What also made the Tall Ships Races exciting was not just the range of weather conditions from no wind to 35 knots, sailing non-stop through the night in watches or seeing a whale (albeit briefly), was that the Tall Ships fleet were trackable so parents, families and friends could follow our progress from home. With regular updates on twitter too, it really felt that you were there experiencing it with the young people!

Did you know that Challenge Wales volunteers helped deliver our summer adventures and this year amazingly 21 volunteers donated collectively almost 250 days of their time to make our overseas summer voyages happen?

And, with Wales’ sail training charity heading towards its 10th birthday next year, who knows what other exciting adventures are on the horizon and will be shared. #SharetheAdventure

Challenge Wales arrives into Harlingen at the end of the Tall Ships Races 2018. Pic courtesy of Sail Training International

 

Amazing Start for Challenge Wales in Tall Ships Races 2018

At the Tall Ships Races 2018 prize giving ceremony in Sunderland, Challenge Wales won the Social Media Award followed by an impressive start in the first leg of the Tall Ships Races.

Challenge Wales uses social media to engage with supporters, funders, parents/guardians, young people and volunteers. It’s a engaging way for us to try and capture some of the impact we are having, keep people updated on what we are doing and share our successes. Winning a drone as the prize was fantastic and something we’d wanted for a while. Having seen the Volvo Ocean Race onboard reporters using drones spectacularly at sea we wondered if we were a bit ambitious in even thinking it was going to fly and then return back to us (at the moment we have had a trial run on the quayside).

A very happy Challenge Wales Skipper sporting his reusable drinks bottle with one of the young people accepting our drone prize

Sunderland hosted a truly spectacular Tall Ships event. Flags and more flags could be seen fluttering in the wind and a great opportunity for photographers to capture some spectacular shots.

Pic courtesy of Sail Training International

In the afternoon of the 14th July, Challenge Wales headed out of the port for the Parade of Sail, and what better way to say goodbye to Sunderland. With spectacular square riggers, that Captain Jack Sparrow would be proud of, smaller vessels dressed with flags, seeing the International Tall Ships fleet sail out watched by thousands of people from shore is truly memorable.

Pic courtesy of Liam McCormick Photography

At 1945hrs we started our race and impressively were the first boat in our Class (Class C) to cross the start line. With young people onboard Challenge Wales and going straight into a night sail would certainly be a team bonding event.

By morning (15th July) Challenge Wales was in light airs in the wrong direction which are conditions that Challenge Wales doesn’t perform her best in but even so, she is still making a strong effort being 6th in Class and 6th for Line Honours.

The Tall Ships Races is one of the largest youth and cultural events in Europe and an event whose impact can’t be underestimated. It’s youth work in action and with no fewer than 8 different nationalities onboard Challenge Wales for this first leg it’s an experience that will be life-changing for many.

You can track Challenge Wales when she is racing here: http://yb.tl/tsr2018#

Don’t forget you can keep up to date with our adventures on twitter, facebook, instragram and linkedin. So give us a like or a retweet and show your support!


 

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)

 

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!

 

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…

 

 

Our Tall Ships Adventure Under Sail Is Underway

Our summer of adventure has started, and for the uninitiated a Tall Ships adventure is like no other.

If you haven’t been involved in sail training before, you might think that we just ‘sail around’ and if that is what you think then you are definitely missing out on something. Sail training is adventurous outward bound on the water which provides a life-experience and social skills development on a variety of levels across all abilities. For Tall Ships racing you can add culture to the list!

Tall Ships Races encourage international friendship, competition and fun, teambuilding and passion about the country you are representing in the race. It’s a cultural and youth event like no other with races consisting of several hundred nautical miles and a ‘cruise in company’ allowing crew to explore new places. Over 50% of the crew participating must be under 26 years which often surprises people.

On 2nd July, our Tall Ships summer adventure truly started. We said goodbye to Danish, Scottish and English young people who had sailed across the North Sea to help deliver the boat and welcomed, Welsh, Polish, Swedish, English and Canadian young people for the next journey. We were already in the Tall Ships spirit having partnered up the day before with the German sail training vessel Esprit to take part in the Stand Up Paddleboarding competition….which we won!

The 3rd July, the Tall Ships fleet paraded out of Halmstad, Sweden. Choppy seas, westerly winds of up to 30 knots greeted Challenge Wales and the fleet and knowing that we didn’t need to cross the start line for another 30 hours (yes, the start line was 100 miles away) we took the opportunity to have another night in port and headed for Helsingborg.

We were spotted, sailing past Denmark’s most famous castle: Kronberg Castle, made famous as Esinore in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet.

The start of the first Tall Ships Race was a virtual start, and Challenge Wales (as a  Class C) boat was scheduled to cross through the start gate a couple of hours after the big square riggers had gone through. It was fun watching on Yellow Brick tracker at the start of the race, and must have been quite a sight to be actually there!

From the strong winds that greeted us at the start of the race, the wind slowly settled down and by 1530hrs (BST) today but at the other extreme had settled down to nothing, as the Skipper reported “We’re having curry tonight, we need the wind, we are currently sailing at a speed of 0 knots!”  The image below shows 0 knots of wind speed and 0 knots of boat speed (yikes!)!

So, with no wind and warm weather it was the perfect time to take an aerial shot of Challenge Wales sailing, in fact this is probably the first time we have had an aerial shot with an onboard camera while sailing.

So, as we go into the evening of 8th July there is less than 50 miles to go to the virtual finish line. Two boats have already crossed the line and with the current weather conditions Challenge Wales is expected to finish around 0450hrs (BST).

Safe passage as the sun sets on another day of adventure under sail.


Don’t forget for frequent updates on Challenge Wales visit www.twitter.com/challengewales
To track Challenge Wales during the summer while she is Tall Ships racing, visit www.challengewales.org and scroll to the bottom of the home page!

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