Andrew Manson - What The Swan Means to Me

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8 July 2020

In 2021 The Swan Trust will mark 25 years since The Swan was relaunched as a sail training and charter vessel. In the lead up to this anniversary, we will be featuring some personal stories from those who have sailed on The Swan and worked with the Trust over the years. In the first of these, Andrew Manson, The Swan Trust’s Sail Trainee of the Year 2019, reminisces about his trips on Swan and what this means to him.

At The Swan Helm 2011

I have had the opportunity to sail aboard The Swan as a Sail Training Shetland sail trainee on three separate occasions, all of which have been worthwhile and memorable experiences. I was still at school when I took my first trip, aged 15, as part of the crew for the cruise-in-company from Greenock to Lerwick during the Tall Ships Race of 2011. My second trip was a voyage to Westray, and my most recent was from Lerwick to Aalborg and then Fredrikstad, as part of the Tall Ships Races 2019.

On all three voyages I have been part of a varied crew, of different ages, genders and backgrounds. Before the start of each trip most of the trainees did not know each other, and the varied ages and backgrounds means many would not have mixed otherwise. Despite this, getting along and working as a team and crew came naturally on every voyage, and by journey’s end new friendships and teamwork skills had been forged for life.

These situations of having to work together with others who you may or may not know, sometimes under pressure, acts as effective preparation for entering the world of work and higher education. Personally, I often found myself in similar circumstances at university and have The Swan to thank, in part, for my successful contributions. I undertook a year in industry during my five year MSci course, in which I had to move to Cardiff for a year and become part of a laboratory team in a city and environment where I knew no one. My experience from The Swan served as very good preparation for such situations.

Being thrown into a new group of people aboard The Swan and having to operate as a crew can seem daunting at first, but as the trip progresses it becomes a truly bonding and formative experience. Watches spent with different members of the crew, passing the hours chatting, at the wheel and performing tasks, and the parties and activities organised in ports, served to create strong bonds between myself and other crew members.

Portside activities I had the pleasure of experiencing included tugs of war, tree climbing, crew parades, concerts and of course a few good parties! Getting to be part of the Tall Ships Race and meet other boat crews and natives from all over the world was a definite highlight for me. There was a real carnival, friendly and welcoming atmosphere in Tall Ships host ports. Just exploring different cities and cultures for days at a time was both enjoyable and memorable, and doing it as a part of a Swan crew made it very special.

Arriving in Fredrikstad 2019 - one of Andrew's most memorable experiences
Arriving in Fredrikstad was very memorable

While the weather, both at sea and on land, may have sometimes been wet and windy, it never dampened the mood. It was all part of the shared experience which helped us to bond as a team, and gave us plenty of stories to relive. In 2019 we were absolutely blessed with sunny and warm weather for the duration of our stay in Fredrikstad. The most memorable experience for myself of the Swan would have to be sailing in glorious conditions into the picturesque fjords on our way to berth in Fredrikstad, having just spent a significant portion of time at sea. Being presented with the Swan Trust Trainee of the Year award for 2019 was also a huge honour. I felt very touched to have been recognised for my efforts in this way.

Having a world class skipper and first mate in Thorben Reinhardt and Maggie Adamson really helped myself and others acclimatise to life aboard the Swan, and volunteer crew member Scott Sandison, who I have sailed with before, is always great fun. Having such a wealth of both skill and experience on board is a real asset in terms of getting to grips with sailing and living aboard a tall ship.

I have to say that the Swan is an incredible community asset and that I’d recommend a trip aboard to anyone and everyone, regardless of age and experience. Having a real living, breathing (and sailing!) piece of Shetland’s history with the last Fifie is truly phenomenal. The community benefits of the Swan are many, particularly having a link to our heritage from the days of herring fishing, which is invaluable. I now volunteer for the Trust, allowing me to learn more about the operation and maintenance of the boat, as well as the work which goes on year round to keep the Trust operational. The experiences the Swan offers trainees are many, and hard to quantify, but suffice to say I think Shetland would be much poorer without the vessel.

What the Swan means to me - undertaking a voyage with the Swan has always given me peace of mind and distance from everyday stresses that would be impossible to achieve otherwise, whilst creating amazing memories and lasting friendships.

If I was to give a piece of advice to anyone else taking a trip on the Swan it would be to really just get stuck in and enjoy it. The more you give to the whole experience the more you’ll get out of it. And don’t worry if you’re shy or inexperienced, you likely won’t be the only one, and you definitely won’t feel like that by the end of the trip!

I hope the Trust will continue to provide life changing sail training experiences for many years to come – I would certainly be happy to be writing a similar article for their 50th or 75th anniversary. To do this they need to continue to attract enthusiastic trainees and volunteers, both young and old, and secure funding to guarantee the preservation of this unique and valuable community resource, for the benefit of Shetland as a whole. I certainly hope this is something the Swan Trust, and Shetland, can achieve.

Follow these links to donate or volunteer with the Trust.

Learn more about our youth work, and the Vevoe Trophy, here.

Anyone can sail on Swan, for details of trips available to book check out our upcoming trips

Links to other personal stories of Swan:

Heather Gray

Maggie Adamson

Ewan Hutcheson & Liam Slater

Gilly B

Andrew Halcrow

Joseph Kay

Laurie Goodlad


Want to get involved in maintaining and operating a traditional wooden sailing vessel? There are a number of different ways you can volunteer to safeguard, care for and sail this unique heritage asset.

Learn more

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