The Sail Boat Project Learning Through Lockdown

29 Jul 20

From its base at Itchenor Reach in Chichester Harbour, Sail Boat Project provides a range of learning activities based around sailing, from sail training onboard yachts to online navigation training on land, and uses these activities to build confidence and a sense of wellbeing in marginalised coastal communities and for those under financial hardship.

At this time of year, the Sail Boat Project - which is a RYA Sailability organisation and a non-profit Community Interest Company whose profits are reinvested into its Community Sailing Fund - would usually be busy training volunteers to help run their sailing activities to disadvantaged groups in and around Sussex. However, when the current COVID-19 situation arose and lockdown was announced, this of course had to be scaled back.

Fortunately earlier in the year, the Sail Boat Project was awarded an investment totalling £800 from RYA Sailability. This has helped three of its Community Sailing Volunteers to continue studying for their RYA Day Skipper theory courses, as well as use the RYA’s digital evaluation tool – Sailactivity – to track their progress.

Jacquie Dowding, Sail Boat Project Co-Director explains: “Whilst being unable to get afloat, being able to support and engage with our Volunteers and help maintain motivation during the pandemic has been vital. With the grant money, which Sail Boat has received so far, we have been able to offer alternative online land based training. The sense of achievement which comes through learning new skills from studying the RYA Day Skipper theory course is so important and will help drive enthusiasm as we return back to the water.”RYA Sailactivity digital evaluation tool

The Sail Boat Project is also using the RYA Sailactivity digital tool for the first time. The evaluation tool is designed to help disadvantaged and disabled people track their sailing activity in fore core areas: reducing inactivity, learning new skills, improving wellbeing and connecting with others.

Learning new skills and improving wellbeing has been very important to one Sail Boat Project volunteer: “I am a volunteer and First Mate on community sails. I am involved with Sail Boat Project because I have had issues with addiction in the past and Sail Boat Project has given me the opportunity to learn to sail, despite my past problems, and experience that amazing feeling I get when I’m out on the water.”

Jacquie continues: “At Sail Boat Project all four areas that the Sailactivity tool measures take place. It’s a great way to monitor all of these positive benefits and helps keep us connected to all our volunteers, which is so important.”

The Sailactivity tool core area of learning new skills has been taken even further with one volunteer looking for a change of career: “I got involved as I wanted to something productive with my time. I have always loved sailing but spent 13 years working in the catering industry. I am looking to move my career towards being a full time sailing instructor and Sail Boat Project are helping me to achieve that goal. I am grateful to be a part of this wonderful community that does some great work.”

As lockdown continues to ease, Sail Boat Project hopes to continue to develop its Community Sailing, particularity with marginalised groups. All the data which the Sailactivity tool has collated during lockdown will hopefully help Sail Boat Project to secure funding which will go towards The Projects’ Community Sailing Funds.

Leon Ward, RYA South Disability Development Officer commented: “The Sail Boat Project has been able to achieve a great amount despite not being able to get out on the water during lockdown. I hope the addition of the RYA Sailability tool enables all this work to be effectively collated and evaluated to help put Sail Boat Project into a strong position for the future.”

The Sail Boat Project usually puts income, which it gains from providing sailing trips, into its Community Sailing Funds. Of course, through-out lockdown there has been no revenue from this vital stream, making successful funding bids all the more important.

lockdown abroad

All these developments have taken place whilst Sail Boat Project’s co-founder and co-director, Dhara Thompson, has been stranded abroad on its yacht, the Jalapeno, a Dutch built Standfast yacht.

Following a six month sabbatical, Dhara and Jalapeno were just about to start their return to the UK, when lockdown struck in Europe. Sailing of the coast of The Algarve, the decision was made to stay in rural Portugal and take advantage of being able to visit the farmers in Portugal whose olive oil The Sail Boat Project imports back to the UK. The surplus olive oil also helps supports The Project’s Community Sailing Fund.

Dhara is also busy planning sailing trips around Spain which will hopefully generate income for The Sail Boat Project. In the mean time, the Project’s remaining yacht in the UK, Karic, a 31’ westerly reown ketch will be kept in tip top shape by volunteers keeping busy and familiarising themselves with its rig and systems, all following strict COVID-19 protocols.

With plenty of materials and food and drink, Dhara has been making the best use of time carrying out extensive maintenance, from sanding and varnishing floorboards, to installing new instruments and LED lighting. As Jacquie comments: “Jalapeno will return in much better condition than before lockdown!”

If you would like to learn more about Sail Boat Project or the RYA Sailability Evaluation Tool please visit: and