​Sailing programme provides a post-pandemic boost to young people

08 June 2022

A sailing programme which has given 39 young people from many different walks of life, who have suffered as a result of the global pandemic, development opportunities through life-changing experiences has been hailed a great success.

The Our Isles and Oceans (OIAO) campaign aims to create sustainable livelihoods for young people by providing professional development opportunities through the vehicle of sport. The initiative has worked alongside the Clipper Race to offer sail training weeks with the aim of rebuilding self-confidence and self-esteem in young people who were affected by the pandemic - and equipping ambassadors with a formal RYA Start Yachting qualification.

Image: Spring Programme Ambassadors- photo by Martina Orsini

David Stewart-Howitt, Our Isles and Oceans Co-Founder said: “Once again, along with our partners at the Clipper Race, we have completed another very successful series of Our Isles and Oceans training and development programmes. Our Ambassadors have all benefited hugely from the empathy, professionalism and experience of the Clipper Race staff and the majestic setting of the west highlands and islands did the rest. Along with the welcoming of the Oban authorities and Argyll and Bute Council, it demonstrates that working together we can achieve great things and change peoples lives for the better.”

The funded week-long training programmes, which were held on board a Clipper 68 racing yacht on Scotland’s West Coast, focused on aiding people aged 18-35 – the generation most impacted by the pandemic’s lockdowns and restrictions. 13 nationalities were represented on this year’s programme, with ambassadors from New Zealand, Yemen, Iraq and the UK.

Image: Sailing on the beautiful West Coast of Scotland. By Martina Orsini

The programme provided a unique opportunity for young people and an unforgettable experience. Says 18-year-old Student Jonathan Donnelly, Our Isles and Oceans Ambassador: “I’ve never done anything like this before in my life… I won’t forget it, it’s been amazing.”

Talking about the hope that the programme has given her following lockdown, Ruth Jack, a 26 year old former singer, now Masters’ student from Stirling explains: “It’s the adventure I need, especially after the past two years. I feel like my adventurous spirit was taken away from me to the point when I didn’t know who I was anymore, I’d lost myself. But now, I’m starting to find adventure again and as you can tell I am absolutely buzzing!”

Image: All smiles on board! Image: GRM Marketing

Fellow Ambassador Hussein Al-Sayed, 22, originally from Yemen told us of the impact the experience has had on him: “I’ve reflected and learnt more about myself in the past five days more than ever. It was an excessive experience that taught me a lot about the world but at the same time about myself.”

Each of the training weeks were led by Clipper Race Training Skipper Emily Caruso and First Mate Riccardo Rorato, alongside Second Mate Jacky Ford. On her role leading the programme on the water, Emily said: “I really enjoyed working on the OIAO programme because it’s a passion of mine to try and encourage more diversity and accessibility into a sport which has previously been very stereotyped.

Discussing the friendships and teamwork formed on the programme, Emily continues: “Sailing is an incredible channel for developing confidence through teamwork and I don’t think there’s anything else in the world quite like it. From the moment they arrive, everyone's a little awkward and self-aware, but three days later, once you’ve created an effective team, the bonds are built and lasting friendships are made.”

Image by GRM Marketing

Aside from completing all training required for the RYA qualification, a highlight amongst both sailing staff and ambassadors was working alongside United Nations Association Climate and Oceans programme, underlining the importance of sustainable livelihoods for the next generation, and the Scottish Association of Marine Science (SAMS), which sets to spark interest in marine science.

First Mate Riccardo Rorato commented: “We had some great lessons from Mia Leng and from Professor Andy Tait (aka Prof. Plankton) about marine science, microplastics, dolphins and the impact of climate change on Scotland's West Coast. It is very clear that there's no more time to wait, and the contribution of each individual can make a big difference.”

It was also an eye-opening experience for Skipper Emily, who added: “Spending time looking under the microscope with him at what is the fascinating world of microcosm that lives beneath us - it opened up a whole world for me which I find fascinating. I’m saving up for a microscope!”

Having completed the programme, the 39 Our Isles and Ocean Ambassadors are now able go on to apply for a fully funded crew member position on board the Our Isles and Oceans team entry in the Clipper 2023-24 Round the World Race.

Following the resounding success of its inaugural year, the Our Isles and Oceans programme is set to go from strength to strength in the coming years.

Image: Scottish sunsets. GRM Marketing

First Mate Riccardo said: “Sailing is one of the most beautiful and unique outdoor activities, and it's amazing to open up the possibility to anyone to experience this feeling.”

Speaking about how it felt to see those new to the sport discover a love of sailing and self confidence, Riccardo says: “This is actually the most beautiful part of our job. You can see on the first day how people are vulnerable in such a new and challenging environment, but it's amazing to see after a few days how they improve. They learn how to handle the sails, how to cook for 15 people, and how to interact with new crew mates they have never met before. They learn how the contribution of every single person is important for the boat and for the crew, developing very deep and sincere relationships. All of the ambassadors have stood out for me, in different ways. I learned something from all of them.”

To find out more about Our Isles and Oceans, visit: https://ourislesandoceans.co.uk/

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