Sail Training Taster Days Build Excitement for Tall Ships Races 2023

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30 September 2022

The Swan Trust has delivered a series of youth sail training taster days around the northern and western isles to build excitement among young people ahead of The Tall Ships Races returning to Shetland in 2023, for the third time. Taking place in Shetland, Orkney, Ullapool and Stornoway, the training events saw over 100 young people enjoy a day aboard Shetland’s own tall ship, Swan. During their time aboard the trainees learned how to work as a team to operate Swan, as well as what it is like to take part in the Tall Ships Races as a trainee aboard a tall ship.

The first taster days took place in Shetland in April, with over 50 young people taking part over 5 days. The excellent level of engagement from these trainees made it hard for Sail Training Shetland to select just 20 trainees to take part in the Tall Ships Races 2022. However, it is hoped the others who took part will apply for traineeships in 2023.

Speaking on behalf of Sail Training Shetland, Melanie Henderson said: “We usually offer around 4 to 10 trainee placements on Tall Ships each year. In the lead up to Lerwick hosting the races again, we have ambitious plans for recruiting up to 75 trainees in 2023! The level of applications and enthusiasm of the trainees on the taster days totally blew us away and we're really excited about creating more opportunities for young people to get involved next year. It was hard to turn away so many for this year’s placements, although we would strongly encourage anyone who didn’t get a place this time, to apply again next year, when we will have more placements to offer.”

To help encourage young people from other areas of Scotland to take part, The Swan Trust, made links with organisations in Orkney, Ullapool and Stornoway to help fund, organise and deliver the days in their areas.

In Orkney the headteachers of Sanday and Westray Junior High Schools arranged for 10 pupils from each school to join Swan, with both groups really enjoying the experience. Stewart McPhail, headteacher at Sanday said: It was a great day and a huge success, with 9 of our 10 pupils inspired to consider applying for a Tall Ships Races placement next year. It was such an incredible learning experience, not just about sailing the boat but in building confidence, team work and communication. I’m looking forward to building links with The Swan Trust, to allow more of our pupils to enjoy this great experience in future years.” While Donald Hawkins, Headteacher at Westray added: “Splitting the pupils into watches, as the crew would operate on a longer trip, was a great idea, and a valuable learning experience for all aboard.”

With sponsorship from Ullapool Harbour Trust, 20 pupils from Ullapool High School came aboard Swan over 2 days in June. Julie Philip, School Coordinator with DYW West Highland, who helped organise the days said: “What an AWESOME experience all our young people had on The Swan! It exceeded all our expectations, and was an informative, exciting and a truly wonderful day spent out at sea! We did lots of proper sailing, where we learnt many new skills, the importance of teamwork and enjoyed the true experience of using the wind in the sails! Maggie was a superb skipper, such a positive female role model in what is usually a male dominated sector, she was quite inspirational!”

Following this, the Swan travelled to Stornoway, where the Stornoway Port Authority supported two taster days for their young folk. Kirsty Hutchison, Business Services Manager at the port, said: “We opened our placements to applications from those aged 14-25 and received more than the 20 places we had available, which shows our young folk are keen for experiences like this. Unfortunately, the weather closed in for our days, and we were unable to sail. However, Maggie and the Swan crew were excellent, rejigging the days to teach the trainees much of the skills at the quayside, including working lines, navigation exercises, learning to tie knots, cooking, cleaning and life aboard. The trainees had two fantastic days and, despite not getting out on the water, many were inspired and keen to get involved with Tall Ships Races 2023.”

Sail Training is not just about learning to sail. It is an activity which inspires self-confidence and the acceptance of personal responsibility, promotes an acceptance of others whatever their social or cultural backgrounds, and develops a willingness to take controlled risks. Feedback from previous trainees, and their parents, has been overwhelmingly positive.

Peter Campbell, Secretary of The Swan Trust said: “The first time Swan took part in The Tall Ships Races was 1999, which was also the first year Lerwick was a host port. That year the Trust undertook a huge fundraising effort to fund local trainees to take part, and the benefits of taking part, both for the trainees and Shetland, was so great that the idea of placing trainees annually was born. As this concept grew the need for a local sail training organisation was apparent, resulting in Sail Training Shetland being formed in 2009. Since then, STS has supported over 300 funded sailing opportunities and, as Lerwick prepares to host the event again, we are working with them to support many more trainees in 2023.”

Find out more about the Swan Trust's youth sail training work here.

The Trust is currently seeking applications for new Trustees. Please contact [email protected] if you would like further information or an application pack. Closing date 21st October 2022.

If you would like to support The Swan Trust SCIO in other ways, follow these links to donate, volunteer, or book an upcoming trip.


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.

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