‘Life changing’ sailing adventure restores confidence of young people after lockdown

21 September 2021

An organisation providing funded sailing training programmes off the West Coast of Scotland has been described as a ‘life changing experience’ by participants. The Our Isles and Oceans project launched in June and is training young people to sail in partnership with one of the biggest challenges in the world, the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race.

Our Isles and Oceans is the first new British Team Entry in the Clipper 2023-24 Race and prior to that, will be training 120 young people over the next three years to sail with intention to then fund positions in the global race through its ambassador programme.

The Our Isles and Oceans mission statement is ‘Youth Opportunity and Professional Development for Sustainable Livelihoods’. The initiative intends on, through the vehicle of sport and business, highlighting the importance of a sustainable future for the next generation through activities and partnerships with sustainable organisations and enterprises.

The OIAO scheme was open to applicants under 35, with those successfully selected hailing from a wide range of backgrounds and professions. With lockdown limiting the opportunity for social contact, many of the ambassadors taking part had stressed in their applications that they’d missed meeting new people. The training weeks filled this void and saw young people, including a doctor, costume designer, carer, student, geologist and landscaper learn how to work together up on deck and eat and sleep in a small living space below deck.

Elizabeth Balmer, 27 from Largs, has been suffering with long-Covid for over a year, and took part in the OIAO programme this summer. She said:

“I had a really tough time during the pandemic, I had Covid in March 2020 and suffered with long Covid for over a year spending seven months in bed. This was my chance to get back out there.

“Having the opportunity to immerse myself with people, after being scared to get Covid again and losing my confidence, has been really special. The fact that I’ve managed to do it, I feel like I’m finally back and I’ve recovered.”

The sail training programme is led by the Clipper Race Training Team, under the guidance of Deputy Race Director, Dale Smyth. Each group of recruits have been challenged to learn new practical skills, develop their self-belief and work as a team. The Clipper Race is the only event of its kind which offers everyday people the opportunity to train to become ocean racing sailors. The confidence built and the skills learnt through the sport of sailing can be transferred from on deck to the workplace which is why the first Our Isles and Oceans programme is on a Clipper Race yacht.

Cara Shearer, 27 from Glasgow, who was selected to take part in this scheme, said:

“It was an incredible experience, one of these life changing opportunities that you rarely get to be part of. I’m leaving the boat feeling empowered and confident and I’m looking forward to seeing what the next challenge is.”

With young people being particularly impacted this past year, Our Isles and Oceans Founders, David Stewart Howitt and Anthony Stodart, hope this new programme will make a positive change in the successful candidates’ lives.

“Our Isles and Oceans offers applicants the chance to learn from experienced professionals and to push themselves outside their comfort zone to equip them for the challenges of today’s marketplace.

“The success of the first programme this summer, the ambassadors coming off the yachts with smiles on their faces, makes all the hard work worthwhile. We want to encourage young people to get back out there, to live their lives and we hope we’re giving back after all the sacrifices they have made since the pandemic begun.”

Dale Smyth, Deputy Clipper Race Director and Skipper on the OIAO sailing programme in Oban said

“The sail training programme was hugely successful in achieving its two main objectives. Firstly, to give the ambassadors some high-quality sail training up to the level of RYA Start Yachting and expose them to the world of offshore yacht racing. And secondly, and more importantly, to take young adults, that had been disenfranchised by the pandemic, into an environment that would stimulate a change in their outlook. A change that would hopefully create a sense of drive and positivity that would enable them to take proactive steps in emerging from the lockdowns they had been in.

“A Clipper Race yacht is the perfect environment for lessons in teamwork, effort vs reward and stepping out of comfort zones. It was so satisfying during the programme to watch the teams arrive on the first day, mostly quite nervous and uncertain about who they were going to meet, and leave a few days later feeling they had made friends for life and quite emotional that they had to leave their teams. One of the phrases that came up in almost all the debriefs was that the last few days had been “life changing”.

Follow the Our Isles and Oceans journey at www.ourislesandoceans.co.uk

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