When Crosby Lakeside Adventure Centre in Merseyside wanted to tackle the issue of getting more youngsters on the water whatever their abilities, they did a bit of creative thinking.

Could they go and invest in more adapted dinghies? Or perhaps they should buy one boat that anyone could go sailing in?

The centre went for option two and this spring marked the launch of their new 25ft Devon Gig sailing boat that can get 12 people on the water at the same time.

Crosby has been an OnBoard centre since 2011, and as they don't run separate Sailability sessions, the centre has taken a fully inclusive approach to OnBoard with children from local special schools and others with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) taking part in their OnBoard sessions.

As many of these youngsters have a range of physical and learning difficulties, Crosby has adapted their OnBoard sessions accordingly to ensure all sailors get the same enjoyment and the same sense of independence, freedom and confidence nurtured.

Now the new Devon Gig will help even more Merseyside youngsters of all abilities enjoy a different type of sailing experience in what is the largest boat the centre has ever had capable of taking groups out at the same time. Funding of nearly £30,000 has come through grants from RYA Foundation, Sport England and funds raised by a previous Mayor of Sefton Council for charitable purposes. 

What makes the boat adaptable?

The boat was constructed by Honnor Marine in Rochdale and customised to Crosby Lakeside's specifications. One modification was to provide roller reefing of the jib sail so it can be operated by a wider range of abilities. It has a gaff-style mainsail and mizzen sail as well as the jib.

The boat is versatile as it only needs half a metre of water to float, but when the centre plate is lowered it goes down to more than 1.5m, increasing performance. At 800kg, its weight adds to the good stability afforded by the sail plan and centre plate, and there is plenty of free-board to avoid water ingress when heeling.

Most of the time, activities will be on the lake with the Gig able to go alongside the Centre’s jetties where there are two hoists to lift wheelchair occupants aboard. There is space for one wheelchair but moulded seats have been installed to offer support and comfort for those who might otherwise experience discomfort or insecurity. Five specialist waterproof bean-bags have also been supplied to cope with those people with other needs.

The specifications also mean that as well as being moored afloat on the lake, it should be possible to take people out on the River Mersey, as it can be towed by a 4x4 vehicle. The vessel’s performance and its engine mean it will be able to cope with the conditions.

“We have never before had a craft capable of going out on the Mersey,” said centre manager, Simon Pendlebury. "This boat will enable groups of all abilities to experience sailing safely and increase the scope for participation considerably. 2017 has been declared The Year of Sefton’s Coast so I am delighted that even more people will be able to enjoy one of our most beautiful natural assets."

For those SEND pupils who might want to explore other sailing options after getting afloat for the first time in the Devon Gig, the centre also has a fleet of Access boats along with a Challenger trimaran to learn new sailing skills through their OnBoard sessions.