Reflections on the first week of Cornubia’s legacy


On the 5th August 2010 Cornubia took its first group of disabled children on a voyage of discovery around Plymouth’s estuaries and the Sound. Since then, the Bristol Channel Pilot Cutter, Cornubia, restored as a classic yacht, sailed on over 150 of these voyages, providing more than 650 children with challenges, educational experiences and fun. With the retirement of the owner and skipper, Tony Winter, from professional sailing at the end of 2016, The Island Trust took on the mantle of providing these day trips. Alongside their usual programme of week-long residential trips, the charity has allocated four weeks of Tectona’s time to this project, two in May and two in October. Tectona is a ketch, built as a yacht, and considerably larger than Cornubia.

We have just completed the first week – time to take stock. Are we doing at least as well?

Cornubia’s first group was from the Beckly Centre which provides activities for disabled children in Plymouth. The Plymouth Public Dispensary, the first to make a grant-making charity to respond to a bid from the Bristol Channel Pilot Cutter Trust, funded that trip. They have done so again; the first to accede to a request to funding for this project from The Island Trust. So with the first trip, on the May Bank Holiday, allocated to the Beckly Centre (now part of the Routeways Group) the auspices were good.

Sadly the weather wasn’t! As far as that allowed we followed the pattern set in Cornubia, which changed only a little over 7 years. We looked at marine life on the pontoon at Plymouth Yacht Haven, and then on board had a chance to study it close up using the microscope. The underwater camera showed the youngsters what lives on the seabed – crabs!

There are plenty of mussels on the pontoon. This experiment shows how effective these filter feeders are in cleaning up the water. The container on the right was a murky as the one on the left until we put a mussel in for 20 minutes.

Motoring up the river to the Bridges allows the young people to get used to the movement of the boat, take part in some of the ship-board duties, such as keeping a look-out, and to observe the marine wildlife and maritime activity of the Tamar. These they can tick off in our specially-written guide, not unlike the “I Spy” books. Unfortunately the rain put paid to their guides, and drove them below decks for lunch. This was when Tectona’s greater space came into its own. Not only does she have vast amounts of room on deck, she has a huge saloon enabling everyone on board to sit down together, and in comfort. She is also coded to take more passengers, so Beckly’s extra person (Cornubia could only take 8) could easily fit on board.

Tectona’s huge saloon and table give plenty of room for examining plankton under the microscope.

With it being so wet, we didn’t set the sails, but everyone got a chance to steer, and to test their powers of observation by identifying parts of the boat (some of them quite obscure ) from photos taken at unusual angles. We also managed to trawl for some plankton to look at under the microscope. The vertical trawl means dropping the plankton net from near the bows, and recovering it aft as the boat passes it. To get it back forward to redeploy means the group has to work as a team.

This group had a wider range of ages and abilities than usually come from special needs schools. In spite of that, and the weather, they all enjoyed the day, and felt they knew more about what lives in the sea and what people do with it.

Doubletrees teacher, Liz, helps Jaimie set the stays under 2nd Mate Andrew’s supervision.

There were similarities between the sails on Tuesday and Wednesday, when we took pupils from the special schools Doubletrees, Cornwall, and Cann Bridge, Plymouth out. On both days the children benefitted mostly from the sensory stimulation the trips offered. Engine noise and vibration, the feel of the wind, the light on the water all created a sense of calm which promoted social behaviour such as sitting quietly and eating together. You can see a time-lapse video of the trip up the river and back with Cann Bridge here. Although there was less engagement with the ocean literacy elements of the day, the images of marine life from the microscope provided entertainment. And the weather was better! Good enough to set a couple of sails, giving the children the chance to work together and see the results of their efforts.

Michael from Cann Bridge enjoyed steering.

Having been the mate in Cornubia, and responsible for running the deck as well as the educational programme, I really appreciate the value of The Island Trust’s permanent crew. They get the sails up, manoeuvre the boat and get her off and back on the marina without me (but they do let me pull on a rope from time to time)! They’ve also had experience with children with special needs, and fitted the programme into their routine easily. I had more time to work with the children and their carers and to discuss what we could do more of or better. There are already a couple of ideas to work on.

Tia and Charlie from Eggbuckland with their prizes for good spotting.

On Thursday we took some of the hearing impaired group from Eggbuckland Community College, Plymouth. These boys and girls are in main stream education, have good cognitive abilities, and were mostly hugely enthusiastic about everything we did. Another good day for weather, and we set and worked all plain sail. There are videos of setting the sails here, and tacking here. You can see the vigour they put into the vertical plankton trawl here. They soaked up information, asked searching questions, and with more or less equal levels of ability were able to compete with each other in getting the highest scores for spotting things in the guide. There was a tie, so two of them received copies of “Time in the Tide.”

The Met Office previous 24 hours report of the weather on 5 May

Sadly, the forecast for Friday was so bad on Thursday, Tom the skipper had to cancel Friday’s trip for Doubletrees. In the event the weather was even worse than forecast – a good call, Tom.

However we have been able to fit the Doubletrees group in on the following Friday.

Eggbuckland teacher, Steve, joined the team as Georgia deploys the net for a vertical plankton trawl.

What did those who came sailing think of it? Caroline, one of the Doubletrees teachers said, “A great sensory experience for our ASD students, the waves, reflections, wind and boat engine vibrations were the stars for my class (especially the light reflecting on the water).” Steve, who brought the Eggbuckland group said, This was a really enjoyable and well balanced day for our students. Very good activities, students engaged all day, crew excellent too! Thank you.” But it was not only the staff who said nice things about us. Tia, from Eggbuckland, commented, “Thanks for my experience, I would love to do it all again! Keep up with the good job, I hope to see you all soon #crew ❤.”

So, yes, we have successfully transplanted the Cornubia operation into the Island Trust. All we’ve got to do now is raise enough money to pay for the 20 days we want to sail on.  You could help by donating to The Island Trust, or you could help by sponsoring The Island Trust in the Eddystone Charity Sailing Pursuit via BT MyDonate.

John Hepburn, May 2017

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