Twelve Year 10 students from Longhill High School, along with geography teacher Hannah Seaby, have just completed what may just have been the trip of a lifetime aboard the tall ship, Stavros S Niarchos.
Their adventure, sponsored by HSBC, was part of a programme run by the Tall Ships Youth Trust. The Trust is a registered charity that is dedicated to the personal development of young people through the crewing of ocean-going sail training vessels.
Now over 60 years old, The Tall Ships Youth Trust, is the UK’s oldest and largest sail training charity for young people aged 12-25. The Trust takes over 3,000 individuals a year to sea and 75% of young people are disadvantaged or disabled.
More than 100,000 trainees have sailed 1.8M nautical miles on the Trust’s fleet, with the trip for Longhill High School students being particularly poignant as it was the last trip for tall ship the Stavros, which is now up for sale.
The students formed a vital part of the 68-person crew on-board ship; there are no passengers on a tall ship – everyone has an important part to play and has to work hard to crew the vessel in all weathers. Students are required to do 4-hour watches, which are either 8 to 12, 12 to 4 or 4 to 8, running throughout every 24-hour period.
Sailing was delayed for a few days due to bad weather, but students took the opportunity to explore Poole harbour, enjoying swimming and tug of war and to meet and bond with the other students on-board who came from schools in London, Leeds and Swansea. Everyone was allocated randomly to their cabins, which were very small and basic, housing 8 students each, in canvas hammock-style beds.
All students had to take their turn working for a day in the Mess, which involved serving food to the whole ship’s company and lots of washing up! Students also had to take their turn at cleaning corridors, showers and toilets every morning during the optimistically-named ‘Happy Hour’.
Everyone has a part to play in sailing the ship and students learnt all the required skills, including steering the ship, bracing (turning) the sails, lookout duties and climbing the mast. We are delighted to say that all Longhill High School students climbed the mast – they are an adventurous crew! Student Marta Lopes, 14, even won an award for being the best climber. She told us, “It was so exciting at the top of the mast – like flying! I sang a song while I was up there too.”
Once the weather improved, the Stavros set sail for Boulogne, in northern France, passing close by wind turbines on the way and giving everyone the opportunity to try out their new-found sailing skills. After a speedy visit to a French supermarket, it was time for everyone to get back on-board to resume their duties. “The hardest thing was staying awake on watch.” said student Lillie-Mae Jones. “Especially when you’re on the 4am watch. I was a bit seasick too, which wasn’t very nice, but I soon got over that and had a fantastic time.”
When a tall ship approaches port, it is guided in by a high-speed inflatable boat called a ‘rib’. As the Stavros sailed up the Thames and prepared to dock at Tilbury, student George Boyland was lucky enough to be the student chosen to travel on the ‘rib’. “It was amazing!” said George “and the driver went extra fast just for me as we guided the ship in.” The ship is secured by four huge ropes at the bow and four at the stern, which are then tightened by winches.
On the final day of the voyage, the Stavros made its way up the Thames and the highlight of the trip for many was sailing under Tower Bridge which was opened especially for them to pass through. “There were huge crowds of people watching us” said Marta, “It was so exciting!” Lillie-Mae added, “Once we were through Tower Bridge, we all took up our positions on the mast and sang a special song we wrote about the voyage and to say ‘thank you’ to HSBC.”
Well-wishers and families lined the riverside as students received awards, certificates and t-shirts from HSBC to mark the end of their remarkable adventure. Families and friends were then invited on-board to see for themselves where the students had been living for the past 10 days.
When asked to sum up their voyage, students Owen Monckton and Ethan Gardhouse – who were awarded ‘best lookout’ certificates – told us, “It was an amazing experience and we would really recommend it to anyone who has the chance to go. We’ve made some fantastic new friends from Longhill and from the other schools too.” Fourteen year old Samuel Townsend added, “I feel much more confident now than I did before the trip and I feel much happier too. I’ve made some great friends and we will definitely keep in touch.”