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On Sunday 29 March, the School’s 16 sailors assembled at the PAC for a kit check and briefing ahead of their Sail Training expedition with The Rona Sailing Project. Founded in 1960, the Project (formerly the Rona Trust) is one of the UK's most respected sail training organisations. The St John’s group was divided into port and starboard watches, each with one Sixth Form leader, and reminded “to give of your best” – a primary focus of the Project.
Upon arrival in Southampton, the group was directed to the Donald Searle, a 75”, twin-masted, ketch-rigged yacht. During a full safety briefing on all aspects of the yacht, skipper Mark Fowler explained how the watch system worked and who would be on duty for the various chores that needed to be done. To several of the boys the announcement by the skipper to prepare the yacht for departure was a surprise, and a sudden realisation that their adventure was underway.
After the briefing, the group motored down the Hamble and into the Solent. The cold north-easterly breeze became a bitingly cold wind, but every call by the afterguard and skipper was greeted with positive responses and actions from the crew. Several pupils took the opportunity to helm the yacht and learn how to manoeuvre a 44-tonne vessel safely through a busy waterway.
The crew made Cowes by nightfall and settled down to a roast supper. An early start to catch the tide the next morning brought the yacht through the western side of the Isle of Wight and the group tacked its way past Old Harry Rock, before taking on the Channel to get into Poole for late afternoon.
Departing Poole shortly after breakfast and using only a storm jib, the Donald Searle accelerated to 10.8 knots towards Swanage bay, where the yacht anchored for lunch. This was an ideal opportunity for the crew to start their Competent Crew qualification, with the afterguard teaching knots, boat rigging, sail handling, metrology, and fire and safety precautions. Trip leader Aaron Mooney produced a navigation plan for the voyage to Yarmouth (IOW) using traditional navigations methods, and the port and starboard watch teams took turns to lower and hoist different combinations of sails, each team clearly displaying their excellent abilities as a closely knit team.
The weather and tides were mostly onside on the way to Yarmouth, and the crew helmed the yacht throughout the journey. A planned late departure enabled the afterguard to continue with the training and both coypus were lowered into the harbour for a relay-rowing race. With more sailing ahead, the crew stowed all the equipment away and departed in early afternoon for Gosport marina, sailing through the Solent and arriving early evening.
Trip leader Aaron Mooney commented, “The crew were asked at the start to ‘give of their best’ and they did in heaps. Sail training is unique and at times it requires the crew to dig deep and work through tough times as a team. I am proud to say that each of the St John’s pupils responded to the needs to their team. They developed a range of new skills and a certain level of independence. They learned how to cook, clean, make copious amounts of tea and above all else sail a 75” Yacht.”
Each member of the crew successfully completed their “Competent Crew” certificate during the trip. All were invited back to the Rona Trust to sail again. In addition to this, four Lower Fifth boys (Thomas Paulson, Cameron Brassington, Lucas Allison, Cameron McKenzie) were awarded the “Scott Award”, where they will be invited back to train as Watch Leaders. Benjamin Pointeau and Oscar Pearce (Lower Sixth) won the “Amory Award” and been invited to take part in the 2017 Canadian Tall Ships Race in Quebec (Transatlantic). What a fantastic achievement from everyone involved, and we look forward to hearing about the crew’s further endeavours at sea.
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