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Living life on the edge: Young sailors crew Black Dog to race win!

by Andrea Oakes 8 Aug 2017 14:39 BST 6 August 2017
The Helford River Children's Sailing Trust crew aboard Black Dog © Collin Faulkner

The five children who joined the crew of racing yacht Black Dog Team Gul and went on to score a win on the opening day of Falmouth Week [6 August] described their experience with an emphatic "amazing!".

"Hiking out over the edge at speed was incredible," said Ross Payne, 12, while 13-year-old Ollie Heffernan added: "It was challenging but really exciting. We had to work as a team to solve problems and keep the boat ahead of our competitors."

The small team – Ross and Ollie plus fellow sailors Jacob Midgley, 13, Gabriel Faulkner, 11, and Rowan Skingley, 15, came via the Helford River Children's Sailing Trust (HRCST), a Cornwall charity dedicated to helping young people discover a love and respect for the sea through learning to sail and kayak.

Guided by Stuart Sawyer, owner and skipper of Black Dog and the rest of Team Gul, the children had chance to put the skills they've developed with HRCST into practice in a real regatta race in a fully competitive environment.

"The children got stuck in from the moment they came on board," said Stuart. "We did a safety briefing and agreed boat positions and then they immediately set to work with the team, who were great in teaching and supporting them. It was good to see the children helping in various roles, from winching up the mainsail, trimming the 155sqm spinnaker and dropping the sails. All the crew took time to steer the boat and got stuck in. The wind really came up as we entered the Helford River, with 18 knots, so they were all hiking out and did a fantastic job. We are huge supporters of the Trust and all they do for children through sailing, so it was great to be able to help the charity."

Mike Comyn, HRCST chief instructor, added: "What a memorable experience for the children. I am delighted to hear how well they performed. Many thanks to Stuart and his crew for providing this marvellous opportunity."

For Gabriel Faulker, it was a chance to progress from sailing single-handed to working as part of a dynamic racing crew. He said: "As I boarded Black Dog I felt over-awed. As the youngest member of the crew, having just turned 11 years old, I knew I had to focus on this big boat and be ready to step up to the mark. The crew were amazing and settled my nerves. By the end of the race, with victory in sight, I felt my confidence and sailing had jumped to another level. It taught me to aim high."

"It was a brilliant experience," added Rowan Skingley. "It was very different to what we were used to and very fast – our average speed was around 6.5 knots, and we hit 10 knots going downwind!"

Black Dog and Team Gul have won numerous national championships in recent years as well as the J Cup for best yacht, Falmouth Week, Dartmouth Regatta and last year the coveted Vice Admiral's Cup in Cowes.

HRCST, which celebrates its 20th year this summer, provides free sailing and kayaking lessons for children through 21 local primary schools as a means of building their confidence, self-esteem and respect for the environment. The organisation operates a fleet of more than 80 boats, staffed by a team of qualified sailing instructors, from a new base at Helford Passage near Falmouth.

Last year, HRCST welcomed more than 600 young sailors to its training sessions – 90 of whom had special educational needs or disabilities. The charity is helped by more than 120 volunteers on and off the water and relies on the generosity of its many local supporters to meet annual operating costs of more than £100,000.

HRCST recently acquired the Trevassack Lake site on the Lizard Peninsula, which it plans to develop as a centre of excellence for teaching watersports – particularly for young people with physical, behavioural or educational disabilities.

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