Ocean Discoverability trip for Devon’s Young Carers

How The Island Trust came to take seven young carers from Devon on an Ocean Discoverability trip on Pegasus on Saturday 12 June is not a straightforward tale!  John Hepburn, Ocean Discoverability Project Manager and On Board Ocean Educator for the trips explains:

The South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is 60 years old this year, and the AONB team and other supporters are being sponsored to walk the 60 miles of the South West Coast Path raising money to fund 60 local young carers to enjoy coastal fun days. These will include canoeing, surfing and other outside activities and will make brilliant memories, as well as recognise the amazing work they do for their families.

I knew of young carers, but as I found out about them the more I admired them, and determined to contribute to this fantastic scheme.  “Would you be interested in a day out in one of our boats, exploring the marine environment and maritime activities?” I asked. Nicky Bailey, their Community Projects Officer, nearly bit my fingers off. “Yes, please.” They would. Finding a slot at the end of a scheduled week of Ocean Discoverability sailing was the easy part.

Funding was slightly more of a problem. Those funding Ocean Discoverability do so to benefit disabled young people. Young carers may be looking after disabled people, and with the stress they suffer may be disabled themselves, but they didn’t necessarily qualify just by being young carers. But I was fairly optimistic that we could find the funds between us, so into the programme it went. After drawing several blanks, we went for an online campaign and with a significant birthday in the final run up to the event I added my own Facebook fundraiser to the campaign.  We are massively grateful for the generosity of friends and strangers who gave over 70% of the full costs of the day. The AONB will top it up from some of their own fundraising.

Went the day well? Not half!

After a week of mixed weather, the weekend was perfect: blue skies and sunshine. A gentle breeze filled in later, on cue to match the increasing confidence of the young people. The seven young carers, looked after by adults from Devon Carers and the AONB, arrived at Plymouth Yacht Haven on time at 0930, a logistic miracle by the AONB and Devon Carers. We fitted them with lifejackets for the long walk out along the pontoons to our gaff pilot cutter, Pegasus, and an introduction to marine life.

The crabs on the seabed beneath the boat squabbled before the underwater CrabCam for the live screening on board.

The barnacles under the microscope demonstrated filter feeding.

The Sound was full of boats to look at, which gave Tom, the skipper, some challenges. Our lobster pot, which we had put down the previous evening in an empty part of Batten Bay, was now in the middle of a dinghy pre-race manoeuvring area – but we found and recovered it, sadly empty. Bigger racing yachts tore past ahead and astern confirming the decision not to set more sail was right.

We trawled for plankton, and as well as the usual microscopic phyto and zooplankton, we found a penny-sized comb jelly, and the ubiquitous micro-plastic in the form of short strands of blue polypropylene rope, which we looked at under the microscope.

The young people had a go at finding mystery objects on the upper deck, a marine and maritime themed word-search and calculating Pegasus’ sail area. Everyone got to steer, help set and hand sail and control the sheets, and assist with lines and fenders as we departed and returned to the berth.

As part of The Island Trust’s Ocean Discoverability programme, the day was recognised as a “European Maritime Day In my Country” event, so everyone received a commemorative cotton tote bag to keep as well as their crew badge and copy of the specially written spotter’s guide. This helped them discover and understand the marine life and maritime heritage of Plymouth Sound. Competition for the most points was fierce with the winner only 5 points ahead of the two runners up, securing her the prize of a copy of my book, “Time in the Tide”.

The next challenge is to make this an annual thing!

"Face your fears and have fun. I got to steer the boat and one of the helpers dropped a camera to the bottom of the water and we could see the crabs, fish and a pregnant crab; amazing to see all the sea creatures."


"I was a bit scared because I didn't know how to sail. I learnt crabs eat fish, how to move the ship and what to find in the sea. I remember ducking to avoid the boom. At the end of the day I felt happy and sea sick!"


"I felt excited as I had not been sailing before. I was taught how to put up a sail and how to coil ropes and I learnt about the sea and what people do to it. I was surprised I was able to walk so well on board."


"I helped with the boat and changed and put up sails. Looking in the microscope at the micro animals I was surprised at how much plastic is in the ocean. I now feel more passionate about the ocean and pollution."


"At first I was very nervous. The experience taught me not to be afraid and try new things. We were taught about marine life and I learnt how most of the ship things worked. I left with a lot more confidence."


"I was happy and excited about the day. I learnt how to sail and how to prepare the boat. I might look more into marine life and possibly become a marine biologist. I might also look more into sailing and sailing boats."


Photo Gallery

John Hepburn, 16 June 2021

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