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Issue 35 - Life on the ocean wave

Scotland Magazine Issue 35
November 2007


This article is 10 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Life on the ocean wave

One of the best ways of seeing Scotland is by sailing round it. And if you're going to sail you might as well do it in style says Dominic Roskrow

As rites of passages go, facing the elements by helping sail a tall ship takes some beating, it really does.

Even when the sun is beating down and a carnival atmosphere has kicked in, when the beer has been flowing liberally and you know that you’ll be back on dry land in a few short hours, there’s no escaping the pure adrenalin surge of standing forward and letting the wind pass through you as the boat cuts through the choppy sea waves and sends spray cascading across the bows.

It’s all to do with fronting up to nature at its rawest and most mysterious. And you find out quickly whether you’re going to love or hate the experience, and whether your romantic notions of travelling over deep menacing sea water under sail is borne out in practice.

But the whole experience takes on a much deeper hue when you’re not merely messing about on the water with friends. When you’re in it for real, with days stretching into weeks of living on board ahead of you, and where the waters you’re traversing aren’t the placid Pacific ones, but the often seething maelstrom off the coast of Scotland, then you’re in a different place altogether.

It’s an energising, often frightening, totally exhilarating and ultimately very rewarding way to test yourself. More than that, it requires an investment of trust in others, for to successfully keep a monster of a boat sailing in the right direction through challenging tides and climates takes team work and hard work. Certainly it’s a long way from flopping in front of the telly with aGameboy.

For most of us, the notion of setting sail on the high seas on a tall ship and challenging ourselves remains nothing more than a pipe dream. But an increasing number of people, bored with conventional sun and sea holidays, are turning to adventure holidays.

And Scotland, with its rugged and rough coastline, is the ideal arena for sailing of all kinds, and tall ship sailing in particular.

The Tall Ships Youth Trust is a charity that has been offering youngsters the chance to learn a new skill, to invest in character building and to test their leadership skills.

With a network of volunteers spread across Britain, the Trust works with many youths who simply wouldn’t have the opportunity to enjoy such an exhilarating adventure holiday. To meet the demanding costs of such an enterprise, the Trust offers individuals of all ages the chance sign up for expeditions.

With two tall ships to call upon, the Trust has been running expeditions around the world for just over 50 years. In that time it estimates that the charity has sailed more than 1.5 million nautical miles, seven times the distance to the moon. And of all the trips it undertakes, the Scottish journeys expeditions are among the most popular.

“Originally we used to use the ships for school holidays and half terms and during the summer for youngsters,” says public relations and events manager Jo Wheeler.

“But we realised that we really needed to have them in use all the year round so over winter we send them off to warmer parts of the world and anyone can pay to come aboard.

“But the Scottish expeditions are among the most popular. We travel from Edinburgh to Glasgow and travel through some beautiful places. It really is a great way to get a different perspective on Scotland.” No previous sailing experience is necessary to join the crew of one of the tall ships, which are called Stavros S Niarchos (after one of the fund’s most generous benefactors) and Prince William. But during their time on boardthe 48 volunteers on each cruise will join a captain, six permanent crew and 13 experienced volunteer crew members. They are trained in an array of different skills and on board everyone is expected to man the watch, set the sails, handle the ropes and take the helm. It’s hard, demanding but satisfying work, and for some, says Jo Wheeler, an eye opener. “We take so much for granted these days,” she says. “People forget for instance, that mobile phones don’t work at sea. There is no television so the people on board, who don’t normally know each other when they join a cruise, have to do traditional things like make up their entertainment, play music and talk to each other. They have to interact with each other and that’s why many come. And many make great friends through it.” The Scotland leg has become particularly popular partly because of the Trust’s strong connections north of the border and partly because Scotland’s coasts provide a double whammy for the sailor – stunning scenery and challenging sailing.

Although the point of the Trust is to give youths of all backgrounds the chance to experience the tall ships experience, there are cruises aimed at adults up to the age of 65, and there are cruises to suit all requirements including day sails so you can find out if you would enjoy a longer trip.

A full programme of events running into 2008 can be accessed at the Tall Ships Youth Trust’s website. Help is available for funding in some cases. Anyone wishing to find out more should phone a local volunteer support group or the Trust’s head office.

The Tall Ships Youth Trust has local representatives in Orkney, Jura, Lothian and the Borders, Fife and mid Firth, Tayside, Grampian and the North of Scotland. It can be contacted by telephone on +44 (0)23 9283 2055, or by email at The website is at