The picturesque coastal village of Salcombe in South Devon may be the last place you would think local people, including children, have never been on a boat, never mind learnt to sail. But this is what husband and wife team, Zoe and Ross Crook, who run Salcombe Dinghy Sailing discovered.
As Zoe explains: “Whilst teaching the local children we discovered that some of them don’t know how to swim, have never been in the sea or used a buoyancy aid. The assumption is that because we live by the sea, everybody gets to enjoy it, but a lot of people don’t.”
As an accredited RYA Training Centre, along with RYA OnBoard and Sailability recognition, Salcombe Dinghy Sailing already offers sailing lessons and RYA courses but wants to do more.
So, after a free pilot scheme in 2019 - which involved 160 primary school children enjoying a free sailing lesson, six secondary school children completing a sailing course and sailing for 12 adults working with a local Alzheimer’s support group - The Wind Project was born.
Although delayed due to Covdia-19, The Wind Project is now up and running with four specific projects: RYA OnBoard scheme for local schools, RYA OnBoard club, RYA OnBoard youth development and Regular RYA Sailability sessions.
The RYA OnBoard scheme for local primary schools involves up to 96 children starting a six-week programme with a curriculum focused lesson each week, and each child aiming to achieve 18 hours of sailing.
Armed with information from OnBoard, Zoe approached the schools full of confidence on how to explain to teachers that sailing encompasses so many aspects which can be brought back to school.
As Zoe explains: “The OnBoard material that we have been given has certainly given me more confidence to say to the schools, this is what it can do. I think the work that the RYA has done with all of the connectivity to the National Curriculum is fantastic and our schools have bought into what we can provide.”
The scheme is proving very successful with local primary schools, who recognise that The Wind Project’s impact is so much more than simply teaching children to sail. As Head Teacher Katie Coombe comments: “The project has had a brilliant impact on our children at both West Alvington Academy and Charleton Academy. Each week the sailing lesson is a highlight for the children and each week they return exhilarated, full of stories of their achievements and very tired from all the exercise! It is especially touching to hear from the children that, although living so close to the coast, have never before been on a boat let alone learn to sail one.”
“Being part of the sailing lessons has enabled the children to reconnect to their peers (following lockdowns), work as a team and build their resilience to overcome challenges such as a capsized boat.”
The children also agree that spending time and solving problems together, with friends, on the water is great fun:
“We learnt how to rig a boat. You get to solve challenges with your friends. Capsizing was fun because you got to fall out of the boat and work out how to right it with your friends. This is the first time I have ever been sailing.”
“I love spending time with my class sailing. Capsizing is the best as we have to scramble to get back in the boat together.”
Another teacher also recognises the positive OnBoard attributes which sailing has brought to the children: “The transferable skills learnt such as team-work alongside the sailing specific skills have given all of our children confidence in their own ability, a much needed boost after the isolation and uncertainty of the pandemic.”
As the junior school children end their time in the OnBoard scheme, the opportunity to continue their learning exists through The Wind Project’s RYA OnBoard club. Operating at weekends, it is hoped that by already having a positive experience with their schools, the children will stay in the sport longer term.
The Wind Project’s RYA OnBoard youth development project offers local teenagers, who are already at Stage 3 or at racing level, the opportunity to further develop their skills with the aim of becoming Instructors at the age of 16. It also aims to create employment opportunities for Assistant and qualified Dinghy Instructors, as Zoe explains: “We are opening the children’s eyes to what opportunities there are in the marine business employment that’s around them.”
The Wind Project will also provide sailing lessons for people with disabilities through the RYA Sailability Sessions.
So how is The Wind Project funded?
It’s not been an easy journey as Zoe says: “Setting up The Wind Project has taken a lot of voluntary time and work, with various challenges along the way. All the whilst running and operating Salcombe Dinghy Sailing.”
In terms of funding, it has certainly been a fact-finding year, as Zoe adds: “The funding is there, but you have to be organised. The National Lottery have been very helpful but there’s lots of things to learn like having the correct bank account before you can even apply - this has been a whole new learning process.”
It also received a local council grant plus a £4,000 donation earlier this year. It is also currently crowd funding to raise £26,000, plus match funding from Salcombe Dinghy Sailing.
Zoe says “What I found really interesting is the different level of support that you get from being an OnBoard and Sailability recognised venue. So much advice came through from OnBoard and Sailability during the pandemic. Joff McGill, the Sailability Manager and Hannah in particular helped keep our spirits up and were able to give a bit of understanding and compassion during the pandemic.”
Without this crucial funding, activity would be very difficult. As one teacher recognises: “As a school we would be unable to fund such a fantastic experience for our children from our budget so we are delighted to be able to give them this opportunity as a result of the funding the project has received.
The Wind Project may not exclusively be about sailing as it goes forward, as Zoe says: “Maybe we look at how water-based businesses can get involved. Perhaps a powerboat school business could come on board and help provide Powerboat Level 2 training at cost. This will certainly help the OnBoard youth development project and the children who want to become Instructors.”
For Zoe, The Wind Project is not just about delivery: “For me it’s been about learning too. I’m already looking forward to January next year.”
Zoe is determined to make The Wind Project work: “I don’t want it to fail. I am passionate about it. We have tried for so many years to get it going. By going to the schools and even getting those kids that don’t want to sail to experience it, even if it’s just stepping their toe on a safety boat, is all worthwhile.”
For other OnBoard venues thinking about organising a similar operation, Zoe’s advice is to go for it.