The Stephen Longfellow Academy Year 10 Rona Sailing trip: Thursday 27th June – Wednesday 3rd July

The academy embarked on a weeklong sailing journey around the South Coast of England, taking in 320 miles of beautiful sea and coastline. Delivered by the charity Rona Sailing Project, the aim was to enrich the lives of our students through both testing and new experiences encountered during sailing. The experience was certainly life-changing with many already signed up again for next year’s trip.

Our voyage began at the Universal Shipyard in Southampton after a 6-hour journey from Leeds. Students were met by the crew and introduced to our home for the week, a 65-foot yacht named Merrilyn. After unpacking our kit and then boarding, the students were given time to familiarise themselves with the boat and were briefed on how life on the sea differs from the land. Students were split into 2 teams, “Port” (left of the boat) and “Starboard” (right) and we began our first short sail to Yarmouth where we moored for the night on a fixed buoy.

After a difficult night’s sleep due to extreme weather conditions, we arose at 05.30 to begin our 82-mile journey from Yarmouth to Dartmouth. The journey proved to be extremely challenging for our novice sailors with weather conditions creating choppy waters on the Solent, high winds and a strong current. Many of our students (and staff) were victims of seasickness but through sheer grit and determination, the whole crew pulled together to help us reach our destination at approximately 21.30, meaning 15 hours on the sea. We moored for the night in Dartmouth, a little worse for wear but felt better after showers and beef stew cooked by the students.

Day 3 saw the crew sailing from Dartmouth to Brixham, taking in Blackpool Sands (not that Blackpool) along the way. During the 42-mile trip, the ship reached speeds of up to 10 knots as students began to grasp the basics of working the sails and reading the wind. Time was given over lunch to swim in the beautiful cove of Blackpool Sands. We finished day 3 in Brixham with a team dinner of roast lamb cooked by our students.

After helping captain plot the journey the night before, day 4 saw students up at 06.00 to help steer Merrilyn through strong currents and low winds. Several students began to make significant progress in understanding the craft of sailing, working on knots, rigging, health and safety and how to keep the vessel in peak condition. Another 45-mile journey saw us go from Brixham to Weymouth, where students enjoyed warm showers and shore leave, exploring the beautiful surroundings among the locals of Weymouth.

Day 5 was the day that students began to make progress towards their “RYA Start sailing” qualification, learning knots (teaching Mr. Little), steering the boat using the compass and depth meter and instructing one another in the raising and taking down of the various sails. Sailing 25 miles from Weymouth to Poole, all students took part in 2 “man overboard” retrieval missions and learned the basics of search and rescue. While making our final approach into Poole, we were also lucky enough to spot a pod of dolphins with one following Merrilyn into the port.

Day 6 was our last day sailing any real distance although a mere 25 miles was nothing for our now seasoned sailors. We headed from Poole to Cowes on the Isle of Wight, honing our newly developed skills with the hope of achieving accreditation for our efforts and possibly a Scott award (an award granted to those who had given of their best throughout the duration of the trip). The day’s sailing took in some beautiful scenery including Hurst Castle, a wartime fort used from the Napoleonic war up to the present day. Having arrived in Cowes at around 16.00, the work was not yet finished as the vessel needed to be cleaned both above and below decks. Every student worked incredibly hard to restore Merrilyn to pristine condition and the crew were rewarded for their efforts with a fish and chip supper. Another early rise on day 7 enabled students to plot a steady course back to the Hamble, to the Rona Sailing Project’s marina.

The trip has had a significant impact on all of our learners, it was fantastic to see new relationships formed and teams galvanized through what was an extremely testing week. Skills and attributes developed include cooking, cleaning, sailing skills but more importantly, resilience and determination which will stand our students in good stead moving into their final year of school.

Fun facts from our trip:

  • The Rona Sailing Project (formerly Rona Trust – London Sailing Project) is one of the oldest Sail Training organisations in the UK
  • Toilets on a boat are call heads and the kitchen is called a galley
  • Boat speed is measured in knots
  • Weymouth was a major departure point for the Normand landings in World War 2
  • The black plague entered England through Weymouth in 1348
  • Cowes has held international yacht races for over 200 years
  • Poole has many wooded areas that are home to the rare red squirrel

Miss Hardy and Mr. Little are extremely proud of the efforts of all students and cannot wait to award both Start Sailing and Scott Award certificates during our reward assembly. Any students wanting to take part in next year’s sailing trip should speak with Mr. Little.

*Keep checking the website for student testimonies and further pictures and videos documenting our epic trip.