Working on Tall Ships (Sept 2010)

The 2010-2011 programme of Ashbourne Heritage Society opened on September 14th with a talk by Alan Kingston entitled “Working on Tall Ships”.

“The Tall Ships Trust” was started in 1956 as the Sail Training Association with one ship called The Creole.  The Association at this stage could not afford to purchase vessels and The Creole was loaned to them by Stavros Niarchos, the Greek Shipping magnate, which they sailed until 1965 when they acquired The Sir Winston Churchill.  The two ships were both schooners but then the Stavros Niarchos Foundation funded them to the tune of £6 million for a new ship.  This was a brigantine – the first of two.  Brigantines are square-rigged as against the schooners’ triangular rig.

Over the years between 65,000 and 70,000 young people between the ages of 16 and 24 have benefited from the work of the Trust and the ships have sailed 1.5 million nautical miles.  The upkeep of these brigantines is £3,500 a day!  They also have four ‘Round the World Challenge’ yachts purchased from Robin Knox-Johnston.  These are sailed by crews of eighteen young people.

Youngsters from all walks of life and faiths are taken on by the Trust – young offenders, public-school children, referrals from State Schools and many others.  Training takes place while the ship is docked before the youngsters are taken out to sea.  They have to clean and maintain the ship, do galley (kitchen to you and me) work, helming and working with sails.  This all takes team work, something that most of the trainees have never had to deal with before.  It teaches them self-reliance and gives them self-confidence and self-worth.  Alan said their reward was seeing how the children changed in the time they were aboard.

Alan then showed us a DVD of one of the ships at sea.  It has a regular professional crew of six with the youngsters doing all the work under supervision, including climbing the masts and out on the yard-arms.  Cleanliness is paramount so, yes, decks are scrubbed and galleys cleaned.  When not on watch there is time to read, play games and even watch the dolphins!  Alan casually mentioned at this state in the film, “this was just off St. Lucia”.  Sadly, trips as far as the Caribbean are now too expensive so it’s usually the Mediterranean, the Baltic or the Azores – but what opportunities for these young folk, many of whom would, normally, have no chance of seeing these places.  All the comments from both the boys and girls in the film were positive.

Adults up to the age of 75 can apply for places on a ship and even for them, though they’ve paid for their passage, it is not a cruise.  They also help with the running of the ship.

It is fantastic that so many dedicated people are willing to devote their time and efforts to helping these young people who so obviously benefit enormously from the experience.