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Rodney's Ramblings: Sailing for Life

...The following morning we set sail and crossed Southampton Water, heading for Cowes. The Commander told the young men what needed to be done and I was just one of the crew...

Rodney Gascoyne tells of a project which helped young men to realise their potential.

In the 1960s, the London Sailing Project, a private trust, owned three ketches in Gosport, near Portsmouth and they ran weekend training trips for members of London's youth clubs and other similar organizations. They taught how to sail a large yacht and get along with fellow trainees and experience a totally new and challenging environment, just like Outward Bound.

I went on the boats myself and became a contact to best utilize whatever funded places were available to my inner city club. As a result, we were offered the privilege of crewing another ketch for a weekend. "Ailanthus" was privately owned by Lord Amory, a past, prominent British cabinet minister, who was also behind the formation of the London Sailing Project. He was a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron, a very prestigious club at Cowes, on the Isle of Wight. I selected a group of five friends, not all had sailed with me but whom I had known for some years. They were all about 17. We drove down in my station wagon and joined the boat in Gosport on Friday. It was being skippered by Commander Walter Scott, the Director of the London Sailing Project who I had got to know by then.

The following morning we set sail and crossed Southampton Water, heading for Cowes. The Commander told the young men what needed to be done and I was just one of the crew too. We sailed around in the local waters and even went into the Beaulieu River. Finally we returned to Cowes and moored for the night.

Before having supper the Commander was going to cook, he told them they could go ashore for a couple of hours. For most of them this was their first real time away from inner London. They wanted to go into a pub, a habit I knew they had at home too. I stayed with them to limit their drinking and to get them to return to the yacht by the appointed time. I wanted to let them see that drinking could be a social asset and not just a reason to binge.

We were late a bit and this later led to an argument I had with the Commander, after the young men turned in for the night. I told him I went with them for definite reasons as I was sure they could have become drunk if left alone, and then would have returned far later. I also told him a bit about them, their home lives and jobs and why I had chosen them. They were spirited boys who had many friends and older brothers who had been in trouble and they were then near to becoming involved in similar activities. On the other hand I had recognized each of them had far greater potential and could thus benefit most from this opportunity. They were rough at the edges but they were also capable of far more than was usually asked of them. We went to bed with a difference of opinion on the matter.

Sunday morning we were up early and cleaned ship. We then set off up the harbour and hoved to opposite the Royal Yacht Squadron's clubhouse and their launch brought his lordship out to join us. We set off again out of the harbour and spent a great morning and afternoon sailing in a stiff breeze up and down the Solent and Southampton Water. During the trip the boys performed well and each in turn was invited to the cockpit to helm the yacht and chat with the Commander and his lordship while the rest of us stayed on the foredeck. They were all having a great time and were in high spirits. Near teatime we sailed back to Cowes and dropped off our passenger to the launch, after being saluted by the Clubhouse, with a canon fired from the water's edge, to honour their member.

We then set sail back to Gosport. Before leaving, the Commander thanked them for their efforts and told me quietly he now understood what I was doing and heartily approved of my choices and motives. He too thought they all had performed very well and had great potential with just a bit of help along the way. We drove back to London and they were talking non-stop about the adventure. My faith in them was still holding true when I last saw each of them more than a year later. One of them managed to get a job with a solicitor as a clerk, and was really enthusiastic about his future. I did not later hear of any of them being in any trouble, and hoped they found a more positive attitude to life for themselves. I have always believed that youngsters can achieve far more than they believe, if offered positive expectations from adults.


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