From 2010 to 2016 the Bristol Channel Pilot Cutter Trust took over 650 children and their carers day sailing in Plymouth Sound and Estuaries in the Bristol Channel Pilot Cutter, Cornubia. The children learnt about the marine environment, current and past maritime activities, the natural forces that make a boat go, and themselves. In 2017, following Cornubia’s departure to the East Coast and the retirement from professional sailing of her skipper, Tony Winter, The Island Trust took on the “Cornubia Legacy”. Their ketch, Tectona, took 97 children and 43 carers out on similar trips two weeks in May, and two in October, aiming to match Cornubia’s achievements.
Cornubia’s first mate, John, joined The Island Trust to run the programme, help with fund raising and assist the permanent crew on board, to ensure that the schools and day care organisations bringing their students on board knew that they would get an experience as close as possible to what they were used to. Did we succeed?
Only two of the usual providing organisations did not participate, and that was due to administrative difficulties, which should not be a problem next year. And we welcomed Mount Tamar School for the first time. They liked their first trip in May so much that they jumped at a chance to come again in October. After the May trip, the mother of one of the students commented via the website, “My son George has just taken part on a day’s sailing on board the Tectona. He is 16 and has high functioning autism. He came back absolutely full of passion and excitement after today. So lovely to see as he doesn’t get involved in many activities due to his anxiety.”.
The children that came had a similar range of problems to previous years. This continued to mean that some days concentrated on the sensory experience for those with more severe learning difficulties, while other trips had greater educational content.
The overall plan for the day remained the same, but geography forced some changes. Tectona is based in Plymouth Yacht Haven, up the Plym, and it takes about 30 minutes to get from there to Mayflower Marina in the Tamar where Cornubia was based. So there was not enough time to get far enough up the Tamar to go under the Bridges, but there was still enough time for the young people to get used to the sound and feel of the boat, to steer if they wanted to and to see the yachts and warships in the dockyard. One watch would make tea or coffee for everyone, and the other would wash up – a new experience for some – requiring communication and organisational skills. “So, we’ve got 3 teas with sugar, 3 without and 5 coffees. Who’s having what?” “Perhaps we should have written that down, too.” Yes! And most days we got some of the sails up for a short sail in the Sound, although with Tectona not as nimble as Cornubia, there was less “throwing the boat around”.
The Cornubia Guide (like the “I Spy” guides”) was adapted for The Island Trust and there was as much enthusiasm searching for seabirds, dolphins, buoys, plastic litter etc as before. On the days when the children had sufficient and similar abilities there was a prize for the one scoring the most points, with similar numbers to previous years awarded a prize in 2017.
A new set of close-ups and shots from unusual angles of mystery items on board Tectona proved as popular and useful as in Cornubia. Originally conceived as just a time-filler, they have been welcomed by teachers as encouraging mobility, powers of observation, confidence and, on one occasion, co-operation between autistic boys not noted for working together. Drawing on the Cornubia experience, all the shots now are of gear on the upper deck, and of different degrees of difficulty. Also simple to transfer from one boat to another is the use of a simplified sketch plan of the sails to enable those with the maths skills to calculate the sail area.
A great advantage with John not being first mate, responsible for running the deck (although he is grateful for the chance to pull on a rope from time to time), is more time with the children and their carers and the opportunity to discuss what will work best with a particular crew, and what other activities might be useful. Out of one of these chats, with Jenny from Cann Bridge, came the counting cards. These suit a wider range of abilities than the sail area calculations, but they are not quite as simple as they look – some of the objects are concealed, and we are convinced the fairies move the belaying pins around as there always seems to be a different number!
Part of what made the Cornubia trips different to other sailing trips were the marine biology elements, and with the transfer of the microscope, TV etc, these too continued. The marine life growing on the pontoons at Plymouth Yacht Haven is not as rich as it is at Mayflower Marina, but there were always enough mussels to show barnacles, keel worms and sea mat feeding, and types of sea weeds to demonstrate their variety of form and colour. The baited recoverable underwater video (BRUV) showed life on the seabed there. Unlike at Mayflower there are always shore crabs, and seeing them squabbling over the bait is a huge hit. We were all quite excited by the battle between a large velvet swimming crab, with big sharp claws, and a smaller shore crab, especially as the smaller crab won, to be joined by all the other shore crabs, who then did what they do best, squabbling over the bait.
Towards the end of the day we usually hove to, or motored slowly to trawl for plankton. One net would be towed aft, sampling the surface water, while another would be used for a vertical trawl. Dropped over the bows, with a line leading aft, the net would be rapidly drawn up as the after end passed over the net, which would then be passed from person to person, outside all the rigging back forward to be dropped again. It may not have sampled as much water, but the process demanded teamwork, and was usually seen as great fun. Once alongside and on mains power, the resulting catch would then be examined under the microscope on the TV below. For those more academically challenged, the funny wriggling things are just entertaining. Others found them a fascinating window onto a complex underwater world, raising a host of sometimes quite sophisticated questions. The Marine Biological Association helped identify the more unusual specimens.
Although Tectona’s bulk may make her less nimble than Cornubia, it does make her far more spacious. When you warn people not to run on deck, it has meaning; the decks are big enough to want to run on them! And the saloon is huge, with a vast table which all can get round to watch the marine life on the TV, or in the event of heavy rain, to eat below. Her size also made enforced days alongside usable. It was a particularly windy summer, and when the weather made going to sea inadvisable we could do a full day of activities on board. Fortunately there were very few days like that, and they coincided with more able crews; such days would not have suited those needing “sensory” days.
These trips have provided sensory stimulation and the opportunity to experience something far removed from the confines of their everyday lives. These have proven educational, psychological and medical benefits. This new venture has required extra training needs and additional financial investment but we are excited to have widened the horizons of these young sailors. We now hope to expand the provision in 2018 and are actively seeking the funds to do so.
Do the statistics support the view that the “Cornubia Legacy” has been successful? We kept the same “Smiley Chit.” It measures perceived knowledge of marine life and maritime activities at the beginning and end of the day among both the children and their carers (primary and secondary outcomes), and primary and secondary satisfaction using frowning, neutral and smiley faces. It also asks for narrative comments to capture what people thought they got out of the day (quoted in some of the photo captions). As the numerical assessments in the table at the foot of this page show, there were improvements in outcomes; secondary satisfaction stayed at 100%; and there was a slight drop in primary satisfaction (fewer children enjoyed their day) mostly due to failures to record their views.
So, yes, the transfer has been successful. A key factor in that, which hasn’t been mentioned so far, has been the enthusiastic, cheerful and thoughtful way that Tectona’s professional crew have relished this new challenge. They have been totally unflappable, nothing has been a problem, they have made their own contributions to what can be done (taking the children out on the bowsprit netting was their idea; it was just not possible in Cornubia as it didn’t have any) and they always seemed to be enjoying themselves. A huge thank you to them all.
Thanks are also due to the organisations that showed their faith in The Island Trust’s ability to carry on delivering a great programme by continuing to take part and to the charities that have funded us.
John Hepburn, November 2017
Funders in 2017
Baily Thomas Charitable Foundation
Dixie Rose Findlay Charitable Trust
Eggbuckland Community College
Friends of Churchtown Farm
Norman Family Charitable Trust
Northbrook Community Trust
Plymouth Public Dispensary
Scobell Charitable Trust
Sir Jules Thorn Charitable Trust
Steel Charitable Trust
Participating Organisations 2017
Brook Green Centre for Learning
Cann Bridge School
Eggbuckland Community College
Horizons Children’s Sailing Charity
Mount Tamar School
Routeways Beckly Centre
|Summary of performance monitoring statistics
Outcomes – Averages of levels of knowledge
Knowledge (1-9) Marine Maritime Marine Maritime