The Headquarters Air Cadets West Coast Challenge offshore sailing expedition set out from Greenock on the River Clyde on Monday the 6th of August with a nervous and apprehensive group of 11 Cadets and two adult staff on board the 72’ Ocean Youth Trust Scotland yacht, Alba Venturer.
Since the first annual voyage in 2005 the groups of over 18 year-old Cadets have set high standards of determination, endeavour and achievement under the watchful eyes of the OYT Scotland sea-staff. So much so that their reputation attracts the attention of OYT Scotland volunteers and regular crew who jostle for a place on board for the RAFAC voyage. And this year was no exception; skipper Ian had first sailed with Cadets in 2006 on an outstanding voyage to Iceland. As a Mate, Allister, a retired RAF navigator, was on his third Cadet venture, as was his colleague Will, a former CCF officer; bo’sun Dylan was there having completed his OYT Scotland training after sailing as a Cadet in 2016. This only left first mate James wondering what to expect. But he was soon impressed with what he saw and came to realise the demands that would be placed upon him to satisfy the energy, enthusiasm and appetite for knowledge that he was witnessing.
The first leg of the voyage saw the cadets rapidly organised into watches for the 24-hour sail to the Isle of Gigha. No mean feat for the novice crew having to contend with a choppy sea, fickle winds and determined tides together with cooking, eating, sleeping and simply finding their ‘sea-legs’ in this strange and relentless environment.
Once rested the Cadets reflected upon their rapid development in such a short space of time and then there was no holding them. Early starts and long days, exhausted sleep interrupted by spells on nightly anchor watch saw the voyage progress to Collonsay, Cambletown and Tarbert before returning to Greenock having covered 317 nautical miles in seven days!
Starting out as novices the Cadet crew tied-up for the final time with a new found confidence and a tingling sense of awareness. Now confident navigators, helmsmen and sailors; each having gained their RYA Competent Crew qualification – what a success!
When they return to their units, spread across the RAFAC organisation, the Cadets will have time to reflect on their experiences and how they were given the opportunity to learn new skills and to explore their own capabilities. They will have a greater understanding of leadership, management and teamwork. And as they next welcome the newest recruit into their squadron they might remember how their potential was recognised and released under the skilful guidance of the OYT Scotland crew.
The Cadet crew and the RAFAC staff team are indebted to the Ulysses Trust and the RAF Charitable Trust for their generous and continued support without which this expedition would not have been possible. Our most grateful thanks to all concerned.
The last words should go to the cadets who took part; their comments go some way towards summarising the spirit of the adventure:
“From beginning to end this experience has been challenging, unique and inspiring. After first stepping onto the boat knowing absolutely nothing the knowledge and skills that the entire team and I have developed is astounding.”
“On day four of our expedition I was in charge of leading the hoisting of our jib and staysail. Up to this point I’d felt somewhat lost as if everyone was speaking a foreign language, however it was at this point that for me it just felt like it clicked, which I found incredibly satisfying.”
“Beginning the week I was quite apprehensive as I had only a very little idea of what the trip was going to entail. …however, as the week progressed I had more understanding and started pushing myself out of my comfort zone … (doing) things I would find most challenging and volunteering myself to do things I never thought I would be able to achieve.”
“Life on board is never boring, …learning all the new terminology and techniques required.”
“It has been a truly unforgettable experience and I’m looking forward to taking home the planning and debriefing skills and applying them to my cadet life.”
“This week has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my cadet career.”
“Going into this voyage I knew very little about sailing, let alone sailing a 70 foot yacht, but after a few intense days … on the high seas I feel I’ve learnt an awful lot.”
“The voyage has been eye opening and has developed me …giving me an ability to operate a sailing boat and personally by improving interpersonal skills such as leadership and teamwork.”
“WOW! This voyage has most definitely exceeded my highest expectations!”
“I would highly encourage anyone to apply for this voyage.”
Report complied by Sqn Ldr Mike Blakey, MBE, RAFAC.
Our thanks go to the generosity of the Royal Air Force Charitable Trust for supporting this expedition. www.rafct.com