As I finalise this report Thermopylae Clipper the Discovery Sailing Project Yacht has started the Tall Ships Race from St Malo in Brittany heading round the Bay of Biscay for Lisbon in the first leg of the race.

On the ferry home I caught up with the delivery crew who had spent the week sailing the boat from the Discovery Base on the Hamble River near Southampton.

Two of the crew members, Harry Pocock and Freddie Haden-Brown are from the local “Sea Dragons” Explorer Scout Unit, both are keen Kayakers and also sail dinghies, but this was their first time at sea in a sea going yacht.

Freddie commented that it was a great opportunity to try something different, Harry smiled and said “It was a completely new experience”.

He recalled the first day when due to strong winds and rough seas most of the crew felt sea sick, but in subsequent days all overcame this difficulty and fully participate in all aspects of sailing the boat.

Freddie commented on crossing the Channel, although feeling unwell,  with the strong winds the trip was compensated by cutting the expected journey time by about four hours, consequently we were not feeling ill for so long as we could have been, Harry agreed with Freddie that they had soon overcome the sea sickness and the experience then exceeded all expectations.

The 9 hour channel crossing ended at Cherbourg tying up alongside Donald Searle from the Rona Trust fleet which like Thermopylae also had some visually impaired crew members. Harry reported that Cherbourg was a good town to explore, good shopping lots of local food and shops for snacks. Freddie enjoyed the opportunity to take a shower and a meal on firm land in the Yacht Centre.

 On the next day bad weather restricted the sailing to a short sail to gain more experience putting up sails using winches and handling the yacht under sail. Although the sea was equally as rough as the previous day no one was sea sick; on returning to Cherbourg the yacht was prepared for an early start on the following morning to use the tide to sail to St Helier, in Jersey.  

“This was a great sail”, commented Freddie who enjoyed helming the yacht using the tide and wind to gain speed obtaining a good passage time past Alderney, Sark and Guernsey to reach Jersey in time for a trip ashore. In Jersey we met up with the crews from Jolie Brise and Maybe, both yachts also on their way to join the race. Lunch time the next day we all left together in a hail storm, and avoiding the many rocks headed for an early evening arrival at Iles Chauncey one of the smaller Channel Isles that is the only inhabited island that has French nationality. We took a dinghy ashore to visit the only hotel and an old fort.

There are very few dwellings plus one disused church on the island, one of the larger ships taking part in the race, the Lord Nelson, was anchored off the island, the rocky coast line and narrow inlet makes it impossible for vessels of any size to moor close to the shore.  5 a.m. the next morning low tide had uncovered a large rock only a few metres from the yacht, we cast off and left, taking great care with our navigation!

In calm seas we arrived in sunshine and locked into the harbour of St Malo to join the 50 or so other yachts of various sizes taking part in the race. The next two days were spent helping prepare the yacht for the race, walking through the town stopping for crapes, chocolate, snacks and other local delicates, enjoying time on the beach, or swimming in the sea;  before taking part in the beach games, volley ball or dinghy sailing in very small Opies competing with crews from other yachts.

That evening the 1600 crew members joined together at the crew party, Freddie and Harry with others, then moved on to  an “international gathering”, at an Irish venue  in the town.

After a short night’s sleep up for an early start, tidying the yacht and handing over to the new crew for the first leg of the race; before a much welcomed smooth ferry journey home.

“A memorable experience”, Freddie and Harry agreed; Freddie said that he enjoyed most helming the yacht in challenging wind and sea conditions.

Harry found that the coordinated team work in “tacking” the yacht and adjusting the sails to gain maximum speed was a great experience, both would like develop these skills perhaps in the Small Ships Race in the autumn or join in a leg of the Tall Ships Race in the Baltic next year.

Off-shore sailing with the Discovery Sailing Project is not just for Scouts.

Private individuals, Guides, cadets and other youth groups are out sailing with the project, some, for the first time, sailing or out sailing at sea.

Also on the delivery leg of Thermopylae to St Malo were Harley Groves, an experienced singled handed dinghy sailor with the Sea Cadets and Damian Hegarty who came because a friend said that it was a good thing to do, he had not been on a boat before, and both are members of a youth group in Surrey.

Harley was surprised to find he was the youngest member of crew, “I like doing different things and enjoyed working as a team, learning to use the winches to get the sails set to get the best performance to windward, very different to sailing a dinghy single handed”, he said.

Damian commented , “I will always remember this my first trip, the sea was very choppy and the wind was strong, we needed to avoid a number of large ships that were moving  across our path in the Channel, It was also my first visit to France, I have been to the USA and Northern Europe, I enjoy travelling”.

Harley enjoyed the freedom of visiting the ports with other members of the crew, “I looked round Cherbourg but there was not time to climb up to the fort or visit the nuclear power submarine exhibition”.  In calmer seas Harley was able to try fishing, “I adjusted my techniques for sea fishing and developed a method of using a bottle as a device that would combine a foil and a weight. With the help of other crew members we caught two mackerel”. Harley indicated that he had learnt a lot more about sailing, his understanding of tides and navigation marks.

Damian enjoyed visiting the Channel  Isles, he said “Isles Chauncey would have been a nice place to be born but I would not want to live there. It was great helming the boat and passing the other Islands; I found it difficult working in the galley and below deck with the boat heeled over”. He is up for sailing in Poland and Finland next year, having found this experience very interesting and rewarding he would like to try racing. He said, “he enjoyed visiting the other boats and mixing with the other crews from many different countries”.

Harley was interested in the trip to Ireland where his family comes from. “I enjoyed the independence and responsibilities of being at sea as a member of crew of the Discovery Sailing Project, I am keen to develop my skills and team working so will try to join the race next year”, he said with enthusiasm.

Hamble - St. Malo