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Yacht crewed by autistic sailors finalises team for Rolex Fastnet race

by Phil Harland 31 May 10:30 BST
Ausome Charity takes on the Fastnet © Paul Wood

Ausome, a registered charity promoting the personal and social growth of individuals of all ages who have Autism Spectrum Conditions through an exciting programme of sailing, has secured two new sponsorship deals, one from Barton Marine, a world leader in marine blocks and equipment, and the other from Essex Embroidery for Ausome branded crew kit, as it finalises the team for the 608 nautical miles Rolex Fastnet race challenge.

Last year, the charity Ausome embarked on the epic challenge of giving a crew of nine autistic people the opportunity to take part in the 2019 Rolex Fastnet race, generally considered one of the world's classic offshore races, thoroughly testing the skills of crew and boat. With the generous loan of a Nautor Swan 431 yacht by its owner Miles Delap, Ausome set about raising the funds needed to take part in the event. Following initial donations and grants from the East Anglian Offshore Racing Association (EAORA), Forensic Healthcare Services, and the Royal Southern Yacht Club Trust, Ausome has now received a further boost from Barton Marine, which will supply the yacht with a complement of its world-leading blocks. In addition, Essex Embroidery & Print will provide the crew with a selection of Ausome branded team clothing.

For 80 years, Barton Marine has been designing and manufacturing world-class blocks from its factory in Southeast England and Suzanne Blaustone, Managing Director of Barton Marine, commented: "We are very proud to support the Ausome Team in undertaking this challenge and giving a crew of autistic people such a once in a lifetime opportunity."

The crew selection is well under way ready for the initial qualifying races and comprises of both experienced yacht sailors and relative novices. The only criteria for those applying was that they had to be on the autistic spectrum. One of the crew selected, Georgina Blair, remarked: "I love being out on the ocean, but most of my experience on small boats has been in the Norfolk Broads and the Fastnet race has always seemed like a Formula One Grand Prix - not for the likes of me. To have the chance to take part in the race, as part of a neurodiverse crew, is an amazing opportunity. I am expecting the race to be a great adventure, which will challenge me both socially and physically, and I am also expecting to learn a lot about sailing a yacht."

Another crew member, Seth Kneller, added: "I applied for the Fastnet sailing opportunity because I have wanted to sail for a long time but never had the opportunities to learn. My autism makes it difficult to make the social connections that would help most people to get involved in the sport. When I saw that Lottie was putting together an autistic sailing crew, I jumped at the chance to be part of it. I look forward to learning more about yachts and sailing, making new friends and being part of a team." And the most recent person to be selected, Jack Britton remarked: "As I am on the autistic spectrum, I want to try all my abilities to show people what I'm made of. I am proud to have been offered a place on the Fastnet crew and I'm hoping to gain more sailing experience, make new friends, work in a team and see more of the world. Looking forward to set sail to achieve my goals."

The founder and a trustee of Ausome, Lottie Harland, who is herself autistic and 22 years of age, will skipper the yacht Ausome-Lyra of London. She is enthusiastic about the support her team is receiving: "After a difficult childhood of being bullied through school for being 'different' it was sailing that built my confidence and self-esteem and helped me to develop the life and social skills to become an independent and successful young adult. I am incredibly grateful to all the organisations and individuals that recognise the huge difficulties autistic people face in making their way in the world and who are helping us so generously to give this crew a chance to show what they can achieve. I know each of our team will take something different away from the challenge and we will do all we can to support them in reaching their own personal goals."

The team's first qualifying race in preparation for the Fastnet will be the 185 nautical miles RORC North Sea Race between Harwich and Scheveningen, Netherlands, which starts on Friday 31st May.

Donations can be made to the Ausome Fastnet campaign through: uk.virginmoneygiving.com/LottieHarland

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