From CV25 to 3B

Contrary to what my diary informs me, I am not currently sailing CV25 between New York and Bermuda. The Clipper Race Committee anticipated that today would have been the start of the fleet’s arrival window into Royal Bermuda Yacht club. I would have set out from New York – the start of Leg 8 – five days ago and raced hard on the homeward leg. Hmmm… (I’m letting that thought sink in a moment and trying to imagine what that would feel and look like).

Ok, so instead, I have my feet firmly planted on terra firma and yesterday, after three-and-a-half year’s on the waiting list, I secured this little patch of overgrown land near my house on a council-owned allotment site.

Proud (if not a tad daunted) owner of Plot 3B.

It saddens me how neglected this plot has become as there are traces of former love and care to be uncovered under the prolific bind weed and brambles; like a vibrant purple clematis pictured above. I love that it is still flowering despite the overgrowth’s shady cover and the tendrils of suffocating bind weed.

I have uncovered the partial remains of a chicken coop, which one day I hope to re-populate with hens. There is a cherry, pear and apple tree that all require TLC, but at one time will have been invested in when they were first planted in the midst of time and the allotment association’s collective memory.

I disturbed a frog when I was clearing away brambles and I found one, lone and very stunted, raspberry cane when clearing some of the couch grass…little signs that at one time this was a cared for corner of earth. As it happens, I have no idea of the soil quality on this plot as I have yet to clear away enough growth to get a glimpse of what lies beneath. All in good time…This gardening project is going to take the same perseverance, time and effort as my preparation for the Clipper race did, I suspect.

Yesterday, not only did I officially acquire the status of ‘allotment holder’ (having given up my beloved plot 66B eight months ago thinking I’d be at sea this growing season), but I also took on another role with Youth Adventure Trust, who I have been volunteering with for the last three years. It’s a commitment like the allotment that involves nurturing, patience and care. Having had weeks of getting to grips with online video calls, meetings and classes, I am shortly to be assigned to a young person as their remote online mentor until mid October to manage their transition over the summer holidays and back into school in the autumn (fingers crossed!). I am a bit apprehensive if truth be told, as it’s more challenging to build rapport and trust exclusively online (as opposed to YAT’s face-to-face mentoring prior to Covid-19) but then I imagine the young person is probably apprehensive too.

So, I’m not currently racing towards Bermuda aboard CV25.

I’m on plot 3B planting better seeds instead.

A mountain-biking milestone

This weekend marked the 6 month count down till I set sail from Bell Harbour Marina in Seattle, USA, for the official race start of Leg 7! That means that as I sit and type this post, 6 months from now, I’ll be into my 3rd day aboard Punta del Este. I wonder how I will be feeling and what the weather will have subjected us to? It’s hard to process that I’ll be in the Pacific ocean sailing down the Western seaboard of America, given I am currently in the thick of wrapping up two academic research projects, have just taken on a new allotment plot nearer to my home and, like many other people, am feeling the onset of winter.

Saturday 2nd November was the 6 month milestone to be precise and I realise now that I spent it in a very appropriate way (no conscious planning on my part). I was mountain biking in a beautiful woodland near Warminster with 30 young people in torrential rain and high winds. Like many of the young people, I had never done any mountain biking, so I was just as nervous as them initially. It seems very apt that my 6 month countdown was marked by doing a new outdoors activity that challenged my own confidence on a bike (mountain biking is absolutely nothing like road cycling I now realise!), saw me having to be a positive team player and motivational, despite feeling wet, cold, tired and hungry myself. It was a day we all had to exercise determination, a positive attitude and just get stuck in as a team. I was participating in my role as a programme volunteer with Youth Adventure Trust (YAT); a youth development charity I choose to spend a week’s annual leave and some of my weekends involved with from March – November each year, as the work they do is simply brilliant in my opinion.

YAT are a Wiltshire-based charity who have recently expanded into Somerset and rely heavily on volunteers. YAT provide a 3-year programme built around using the power of the outdoors to transform the lives of vulnerable young people aged 11 – 16. The aim is that over 3 years these young people are inspired to: build resilience, develop confidence and self-esteem, learn valuable life skills and achieve their full potential through an outdoor adventure programme. There’s a camp for each year of the programme – Forest Camp, Mountain Camp and Coastal Camp – as well as day-long activities scattered over weekends throughout the year called Explore Days, Pathway Days and Activity Days. Although I inform YAT at the beginning of each year which weekends and camp dates I can cover, what I love is that until the day I never know who the young people I am going to be spending my time with are, nor what activities I am to do with them. Like many of the young people YAT serve, I have participated in lots of new activities that I would never have done outside of YAT: coasteering in Purbeck, raft-building in Swanage, canyoning in the Black Mountains, mountain biking near Longleat, surfing in Pembrokeshire…

The Youth Adventure Trust’s 3-year youth development programme

Although we are all naturally a  little bit apprehensive when we undertake a new activity, by the end of the day, everyone has enjoyed themselves and feels proud to have pushed themselves to try something new. I am always amazed by those in my group on Coastal Camp who are afraid of water and not confident swimmers, but who quietly push themselves to jump off a rock into a heaving swell by the end of the session. They inspire me every time and this weekend was no exception! One girl in my group was not confident on a bike at all; never mind having to mountain bike uphill in thick muddy tracks! We started the day all getting used to our bikes by cycling around a tennis court, whilst she simply stood in the corner and stared at her bike with a big frown on her face. Somehow the instructor managed to coax her onto her mountain bike, but she was not confident and quickly lagged behind. The fact that there were high winds and torrential rain did not help, but despite this, she plodded on at the back of the group, occasionally pushing her bike. Another young person who was not in his comfort zone either, promptly vomited over his handlebars once we all re-grouped at the top of a track. The next section of the route did nothing to entice either of them into the activity either, as the heavy rain meant that each dip on the forest floor became a good pool of very muddy water that came over our feet and peddles and the tracks had become sticky, thick mud slides, which threatened even the most confident cyclist’s balance and challenged even the strongest thighs to keep turning those peddles in the resistant grip of mud. Mud was everywhere! The young woman by this stage was getting quite fed up and had long since given up being in the saddle. She huffed and puffed and heaved her bike through the mud and occasionally threw her mountain bike down in frustration. But despite this, she and the young lad who had vomited both completed the course and returned to the scout hut covered in mud, having free-wheeled down the hill back into Warminster with the rest of the group. Neither vocally complained, nor gave up, shouted, swore or cried. They stayed with their group and quietly gritted their teeth. They really impressed me. Their grit and resilience was impressive. During those challenging moments at sea aboard Punta del Este when my own energy levels take a nose dive or seasickness threatens to stop me from fulfilling any of my onboard duties, I need to recall these two young people and summon the same grit and determination that they did whilst mountain biking, for they NEVER gave up and stayed with their team.

Say “YES” to adventure and volunteering!

It’s National Volunteer’s Week, which happens annually to celebrate volunteering in all its diversity and the millions of volunteers who keep valuable services operating, such as the RNLI lifeboat crew who I relied on two weeks ago!

By accident, rather than design, I realise that National Volunteer’s Week is book-ended in my diary with my own volunteer commitments, so I thought I would use my blog to give a shout out to two great charities I volunteer with who work hard to serve vulnerable and/or disadvantaged young people through sailing and outdoor education programmes.

Last weekend I was at Coastal Camp; a three-day camp that takes place in Purbeck, Dorset, which I have attended as a Programme Volunteer for the last two years for Youth Adventure Trust (YAT). The Youth Adventure Trust uses outdoor adventure to enable young people to build resilience, develop confidence and self-esteem, learn valuable life skills and achieve their full potential through a three-year outdoor adventure programme. The programme is for 11-14 year olds, some of whom have lost their parent/guardian and some of whom are young carers. That’s why the charity appealed to me, because I know only too well the impact of long-term caring and bereavement on families; both through personal experience and through my academic research.

For these young people the camps are a break from their routines and daily life and an opportunity to make new friendships, experience the outdoors, camping, being away from home and the many wonderful outdoor activities on offer in a full-on, hectic schedule that runs from 7am to 10pm each day incorporating: coasteering, SUP, kayaking, sailing, canoeing, raft-building and racing, hiking, team games on the beach and canoeing (as well as all the camp duties such as washing up, cleaning the shower block and their tents). This year we had the additional perks of sighting a dolphin in Swanage Bay as we were kayaking, which for many of the young people in my group quickly became their highlight of the camp, as well as watching a fawn (baby deer) wondering through the camp and shooting stars above Corfe Castle. Magic!

I love the young people I’m there to serve in my role as a volunteer; they make me laugh a lot and always surprise me with their courage and perseverance. As a YAT volunteer I’m there to look after the welfare of the young people in my group and ensure that the young people are given every opportunity to gain maximum benefit out of Coastal Camp. What this actually entails is supervising my group throughout the day and evening and being ready to assist the Land and Wave activity instructors when needed.

I am constantly keeping an eye on ensuring all the young people in my group are engaged, working well together and hopefully, having fun. Initiating the occasional game or team riddle when attention is drifting, star jumps when they’re cold after coasteering, reassuring those in tears because of homesickness, or taking time out with those who are challenging in their behaviour is all part of my Coastal Camp day. I love the many people I meet in connection with Coastal Camp too, including the Land and Wave instructors and other YAT volunteers; we all look out for each other to make the camp run as smoothly as possible. I am always impressed by the young people I meet who were very timid and afraid of the sea, who only 3 days later, step onto a coach to return home having made a few jokes at my expense or said “thank you” to me as we pack up camp knowing that they’ve jumped off rocks and paddle boards into a sea where they can’t see the bottom and the swell heaves against rocks. I hope the experience inspires them to continue to be courageous.

Tonight marks the end of National Volunteers Week, but tomorrow I set off very early for a Saturday to drive to Poole. I will stay aboard Prolific, a vessel owned by Ocean Youth Trust South who are a charity I have been volunteering with as Sea Staff for the last one-and-a-half years. Prolific is in Poole for the weekend as part of the Poole Boat Show and I’ll be showing members of the public around the boat and informing them of what we get up to on week-long voyages with young people.

Ocean Youth Trust South offer adventure under sail to young people aged 12-25 from a wide range of backgrounds. Wherever possible, the sea staff aim to hand over responsibility to the young people sailing as crew. Prolific is not a vessel where the Skipper makes decisions, and everyone obeys orders, rather the young crew are encouraged to play an active part in the voyage. An ideal voyage is one where by the end of a week-long voyage the volunteer sea staff are there just for safety, but the effective running of the boat is undertaken by the crew. All volunteer sea staff, as well as paid staff, make a commitment to every young crew member that whatever energy and enthusiasm they put into the voyage, the sea staff will match and beat it. All volunteer and paid sea staff have in common a love of sailing, a lot of enthusiasm about working with young people from a wide variety of backgrounds and are prepared to give 100% to ensure that each voyage is a success for the young crew…This video gives you a good idea:

Ocean Youth Trust is one of three regional charities, which grew out of the Ocean Youth Club, originally founded in 1960. If you’re in Poole over the weekend why don’t you come down and say “hello”, step aboard and explore Prolific?