Monday 27th June 2016 saw ten eager sailors from Selly Oak Trust School Birmingham, which is one of the largest for young people with special educational needs in Europe, depart for Portsmouth to take part in a Tall Ships Expedition. The group consisted of six 6th Form students and four students from year 10 accompanied by Mr Cummings and Mr Crowe; we all set off with an air of expectation and adventure, ready to tackle the challenges we would face during the week.
Our Minibus dropped us off at Gunwharf Quays Portsmouth, then we were ready to meet the crew of our Challenger Yacht, Peter the Watch Leader met us at the gate to the marina and led us to our Yacht Challenger 3, that was to be our home for the next week, and we were introduced to Julian, the skipper, and Sam, the first mate. Once we had been given a tour around the boat and learnt some basic skills, such as how to use the winches, we were ready to ‘cast off’ and head out in to the Solent to motor our way over to Cowes on the Isle of Wight.
We had to all wake up and breakfast early on our second day, as the plan was to sail to Poole; however we had to leave before the tide turned at around 10:00 am or we would be stuck in Cowes harbour for the rest of the day. We headed out towards the Needles and saw the lighthouse that stands at the end of the rocks, then the real sailing began where we all had to work together to hoist the sails, and work the winches when tacking the boat. Everybody worked hard learning all the different jobs needed to sail the boat and we practiced new knots we would be using during the week. After a tiring day learning to sail we arrived in Poole Harbour to heavy rain, this made stowing away the sails and tidying the deck hard work but we completed all the tasks so the skipper allowed the crew some free time to have a look around Poole, most of the students headed for the amusement arcade. Once we had all returned to the boat everybody helped out to make fish and chips or doing the washing up.
After a long day sailing on Tuesday we were given a bit a lie in on Wednesday morning, after having breakfast then prepping the boat for the days sail, we had some spare time before we had to set sail, so we inflated the boat’s dinghy and had races in the marina which was a lot of fun. Once we had done this and packed away, it was time for us to leave Poole harbour and sail towards Lymington. The weather was not good however, with strong winds, rain, fog and choppy seas, and a lot of our crew felt quite ill, not admitting to being sea sick, they tried to blame it on the soup we had eaten for lunch. We only had a few people left on deck so it was down to us to still hoist the sail even in the really bad weather. By the time we were reaching Lymington harbour the weather eased and everybody who had gone below made a miraculous recovery; just in time to help with cleaning the boat and stowing the sails. After we had done this we all went and had hot showers and tried to recover from a challenging day. In the evening we went for a walk around the town of Lymington which was very nice.
Our fourth day was our final full day of sailing, and the plan was to sail from Lymington back towards Cowes then from there we would motor over to Portsmouth in the evening. Becoming more experienced sailors now we had the boat quickly ready in the morning and we were soon leaving Lymington marina to head back out into the Solent. Thankfully the weather had improved massively, since the day before, so we were eager to carry on learning how to sail. We learnt how to gibe which was a tricky manoeuvre to undertake, having to be watch out for the boom swinging across above our heads, but we all learnt quickly and were soon operating as an efficient crew. We stopped at Cowes to refuel, then had dinner at anchor in a small bay just outside Cowes, before motoring back over to Portsmouth that evening.
Our last day, Friday, was spent cleaning the boat from stem to stern and top to bottom, ready for the next group. Once this was completed, we said our thank yous to the crew and had some time to reflect on all that we had learnt during the week. We then said our goodbyes and went to be picked up by our minibus to return home to Birmingham after our adventure at sea.
We all had a fantastic trip and learned lots; not just about how to sail but also how we can live more independently and take more responsibility for ourselves. We would like to thank the Ulysses Trust for their kind and generous support that made this amazing trip possible.