Simon Le Bon � frontman of legendary pop group Duran Duran, RYA member and one of our most high-profile yachtsmen � is reflecting on a day racing with a group of young people brought together by the Tall Ships Youth Trust, the UK�s oldest and largest sail training charity.
�They were in heaven,� he says of the youngsters from London�s Tower Hamlets. �They were loving sailing and working as a team. They all wanted to make the boat go faster and were doing everything they could because they were in a race and wanted to win!�
The Tall Ships Youth Trust aims to bring sailing experience to disadvantaged young people and people with disabilities. As part of this, the organisation staged a Round UK Challenge last year that set sail on 30 August and was part-funded by a crowdfunding campaign supported by Simon.
The Challenge saw six groups of ten young people aged 12-25 taking part in one leg of a relay-style voyage around the UK. While on board they must work hard, and are responsible for everything from cooking and cleaning to steering and learning to read charts.
�All it takes is for someone to take you out on a boat as a young person and that�s something you can own,� says Le Bon, who�s been sailing since the age of 11, when he ventured onto the Norfolk Broads. He says the experience changed his life: it taught him sailing skills, but also gave him a sense of freedom.
�The local vicar took three boys and three girls sailing every year,� says Le Bon. �He told my mum he had space for a boy. All I heard was that there�d be girls and I was there! But within a few days the vicar let me take the dinghy tiller on my own. Then the main sheet. He said to me: �You can do this. You�re good at this.� And that meant a lot. Suddenly I had control of transport that wasn�t powered by my legs! I loved the independence. I still do. I love the feeling of being sucked along by the wind.�
Le Bon�s formative sailing trips inspired him to support the Tall Ships Youth Trust, and he�s keen to ensure that other young people are able to enjoy the opportunity to get out on the water.
�These experiences are incredibly important [for young people],� he explains. �They help them with a sense of self-worth, give them a sense of independence and of being able to do something useful in a team.
�Everyone should have the opportunity to sail. I can�t think of a better way of getting somebody out of the kind of are heading for.
�It�s drug-free, it�s alcohol-free, it�s healthy, it gets you off the television, off the iPad and off the phone. You have to work to physically make the boat work. You have to learn to make a piece of machinery take you somewhere without the use of power � the wind is the power.�
According to Le Bon, it�s easy for young people to become isolated as their world shrinks to fit the screens of their phones. But when they�re at sea they have to think and act together.
�Young people will be on the winches, on the helm. Everything that makes the boat work is done by a team,� he says. �Put them on a boat and they feel like they mean something. They have a job to do. You can see the change in them. By the end of their time at sea they�ve been through storms, all sorts � and they�ve done it together. That�s what matters.�
Rachel, 19, says that before she joined the Challenge, and sailed from Greenock to Newcastle, her world began and ended with social media.
�My social worker asked me to come on this voyage two days before the ship departed,� she says. �I was really excited about coming and in my head I thought it was going to be a relaxing holiday. But I was so wrong. My life up until then had been about Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram and looking my best; those were the things that were most important to me. That, and fit lads. I never left the house without my make-up and always had data on my phone. I found ship life really hard at first � I struggled with the jobs and making new friends. It was so far out of my comfort zone.�
While on board the young people are assigned to watches working in shifts to complete duties through the day and night, which the Trust believes helps develop the youngsters� long-term life skills, including team working, confidence building and problem-solving skills.
Rachel agrees and says that she has learned to tie knots and sail the boat � and she didn�t wear make-up once on the trip. �I can help cook a meal and have cleaned the ship. I have learnt new life skills,� she says.
�It�s what�s on the inside that counts. That�s what I�ve learnt. I have made friendships that will last a lifetime and I think this is one of the best experiences of my life so far. I would love to do this again.�
Learning skills for life
Lauryn, 18, says that taking part in the Challenge has helped her overcome her anxiety about mixing with people she doesn�t know and help her become more like the person that she wants to be.
�I�ve surprised myself by managing my feelings in this new situation,� she says. �I�ve supported my crew of fellow care leavers � some who have special needs � and helped keep them safe on the ship. I�ve met some amazing people. The skipper and his crew have helped me overcome a lot of emotions since being here.�
With around four million British children living in poverty, according to the Children�s Society, helping young people build resilience and confidence is a vital part of breaking out of the poverty trap.
�The RYA does some amazing work with young people as well,� says Le Bon. �I�m so glad that it exists as an organisation. I�ve benefitted hugely from my membership and I think everyone does. [Sailing] brings people together and gets them working together. It shows you that there are some things you have to do as a team. That�s one thing I�ve learnt: it�s not just me, it�s not just the band � there�s a whole team behind Duran Duran who get it going. [Sailing] is a very simple way to teach young people how to do this.�
As an ambassador for the Tall Ships Youth Trust, Le Bon�s focus now is on raising awareness of the charity�s fundraising. Its Flagship Appeal hopes to raise �5 million in order to continue to provide sailing opportunities as well as buy a 24-berth flagship. �The Trust has four 72ft Challengers and a ketch but no tall ship,� he explains, �so we need to raise money to buy a schooner and then we�ll be able to take almost twice as many young people to sea as we do now.�
Find out more about the Tall Ships Youth Trust�s Flagship Appeal at www.tallships.org
Le Bon�s Boats
EILEAN - The most iconic boat associated with Simon Le Bon is Eilean, the 70ft ketch featured in the video for the Duran Duran song Rio, which was released in 1982. Eilean was designed and built by William Fife in 1936 for the Fulton brothers, who were Scottish steel traders.
DRUM - A harsh reminder of the dangers of sailing came in 1985 when Simon had to be rescued from his maxi yacht, Drum, while competing in the Fastnet race. The boat was one of the favourites to win, but lost its keel and capsized. Fortunately, all the crew were rescued.
THE FUTURE - Le Bon and the Tall Ships Youth Trust are fundraising for a new flagship that they hope will help 50,000 young people over the next 20 years: a 24-berth vessel similar to the Sir Winston Churchill and Malcolm Miller that the Trust operated when it first started over 60 years ago.
Article first published in the RYA Magazine.