Irene tackles mental health issues with awe and wonder

People with mental health issues, struggling with isolation and loneliness, are benefiting from the wonder and awe of going out to sea in a historic tall ship, thanks to the work of Sea Sanctuary
11 May 22
Joe Sabien with clients aboard Irene
A Cornish mental health charity takes a unique approach to its work with the people it supports, taking them out to sea to gain the enormous benefits of sailing. Now, it has a very special vessel to inspire them. 

Sea Sanctuary’s clients, who have often suffered from trauma and may have been ‘through the mill’ despite attempts from conventional approaches, are given the opportunity to be at one with the sea. This enables them to enjoy the space and the sensory awareness, and the challenge to explore themselves and often self-imposed limitations. One of the many benefits of this approach is the connection with both the sea and with other people for those who have been struggling with isolation and loneliness.

The charity recently took delivery of Irene, a historic tall ship that was built in 1907 and they are now working with the Morrish family and the Cardinal Clinic over an exciting five-year partnership. A stunning ex-charter vessel, Irene had a reputation for the finest hospitality, and has appeared in movies and adverts, including Pirates of the Caribbean. Joe Sabien, Sea Sanctuary’s founder and chief executive, explains:

“We’ve been taking people out on smaller boats for the past 12 years, but now we’re able to provide this far larger one. While our optimum number of sailors at any one time remains between six and eight, Irene gives us more space generally, just to have fellowship time, to sit and talk and eat, and also offers the wonder and awe of experiencing something truly magnificent.”

Joe has former experience in NHS mental health crisis teams and understands that loneliness and isolation can be precursors to mental health issues. People become deskilled in communication and relationship building: “Where day centres and befriending schemes have been removed people are struggling, but the sea can connect us to something; that’s the power and wonder of it. Sailing, working in small groups, people are beginning to trust again, to develop meaningful relationships and rediscover the skills required to connect. People who have had no previous sense of collaboration find it here.”

The beneficiaries of the charity will also be involved in the maintenance of the historic vessel, says Joe: “Maintenance is such an important part of sailing life, and it is an activity that encourages people to self-soothe and maintain themselves – something that ill people sometimes don’t do very well. Seeing something coming back to life can affect how they look after themselves too.” 

The work of Sea Sanctuary is profoundly moving and life-changing for people; a number of clinicians and therapists work alongside Joe to offer an adjunct to sailing activity. They provide a carefully detailed model of care and treatment planning, with very thorough assessment. Joe finds that two questions they use in their programmes are often profoundly moving, as calls to action for people recovering their mental health: “When people learn something, we ask ‘what will you do differently tomorrow?’ and ‘if you wanted the world to know one thing about you, what would that be?’”

Sea Sanctuary, with the help of Irene, is set to continue its world-leading work, showing that ‘blue spaces’ such as the sea, are beneficial for people’s mental and emotional wellbeing.

Find out more about Sailability and how you can start boating