Challenge Wales had always known about Sailability, but never explored becoming an official site as they felt they were already doing the things Sailability does. That was until their Business Development Manager, Vicky Williams, attended a Sailability forum at the start of March.

Now the offshore sail training charity, whose fleet includes the 72ft Challenge Wales round-the-world yacht, has become the largest boat in Wales to join Sailability and offer opportunities for disabled people. So, why did they think it would enhance their programme now?

Vicky explains: “We’ve always worked with groups that have included young people with disabilities, from visual and hearing impairments to Down’s Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy and across the spectrum of learning disabilities. I only went to the forum to find out what the advantage of joining Sailability would be and I left really understanding how it could be valuable. It just made sense.”

What made most sense to Vicky was the Sailability Logbook and Syllabus Scheme. Around 95% of Challenge Wales’ work is with young people under 25, with the majority initially going on a one-day sailing voyage as part of a group.

The Logbook opens doors to progression, and having created their own Lottery-funded Voyage of Discovery programme, giving disadvantaged young people the chance to learn soft skills and gain recognised Agored Cymru accreditation through sailing, the Sailability Logbook is another way to record and show achievement.

Vicky continues: “Young people who sail with us get a Challenge Wales certificate and do Agored Cymru qualifications in soft skills like teamwork and confidence. The Sailability Logbook not only gives them more certificates to achieve, but also potentially provides a platform to move on to bigger things and gain RYA qualifications, including Start Yachting and Competent Crew to even Day Skipper.

“For so many of our young people, having something to put on their CVs is invaluable, and the Sailability Logbook scheme is another way young people with disabilities can track progress, demonstrate learning new skills and gain confidence.”

Widening horizons

Although Challenge Wales have traditionally worked with groups including disabled young people, more recently they have started working with whole groups from local disability charities, including Leonard Cheshire Disability and Mencap.

One young person that discovered sailing through Leonard Cheshire is Evan, who has a sensory impairment, a learning disability and suffers from anxiety and depression. On his first one-day voyage, Evan’s group leader said he overcame his nervousness and was quick to take part in any tasks that called for volunteers. He was also very supportive to one member of his group who was struggling with her balance.

“My favourite part of the sailing experience was all of it,” Evan said after his first trip. “I loved being able to relive childhood memories. I was nervous and excited beforehand, but afterwards I was proud and pleased with myself.”

Evan returned for a short two-day residential voyage with other members of his group, taking part in many of the activities from sailing to helping in the galley.

He also reported that voyage had helped with his anxiety and depression, leading to him needing to make less use of mental health services. This was verified by an independent outcome evaluation, which showed his confidence increased as well as his skills score, but the biggest improvement was in his physical/mental health.

Vicky continued: “We only joined Sailability this summer so we’re now getting ready for next year, visiting groups and planning our promotion to raise awareness of the accessible opportunities we can offer under the national Sailability banner. The networking, ideas sharing and resources that all come with being part of the wider Sailability family will be a big help to us too.

“To any sail training organisations, clubs or centres that already work with disabled people but can’t see the benefit of joining Sailability I’d say investigate it. We’re excited about the new groups we might now gain exposure to that we can introduce to the many benefits of sailing.”