We Are Sailing

sailingNow that the excitement of the Tall Ships is subsiding and we’ve begun to take stock of the enormous good it did, the challenge is to properly understand its legacy.

The Tall Ships races are races for sail training. The Tall Ships have been a beacon for cross-community youth development here since the late seventies as over 50% of the crew onboard each Tall Ship must consist of young people. As Kalanne O’Leary Chairperson of Sail Training Ireland puts it, “The sail training experience can be life-changing, it’s extremely effective.”

The ‘Asgard II’, previously owned by the Minister of Defence, and named after the famous ‘Asgard’ which smuggled guns to the Irish Volunteers at Howth in 1914, was pivotal in helping large numbers of young people to access team work and life skills sailing training programmes. When it floundered in the Bay of Biscay it left a gaping hole in the resources available to youth development work. Emerging from various guises, Sail Training Ireland was formed to keep the tradition of sail training alive.

When the Tall Ships left Dublin this year some of them went to Liverpool for the Tall Ships Irish Sea Regatta, which was organised through a European Union Youth In Action Programme. 22 young people from both North and South helped race the somewhat ironically named ‘Pelican of London’. After voyaging from Dublin to Liverpool participants were left off in Belfast.

Unfortunately, not having a national sail training vessel is hindering the process of placing trainees on Tall Ships. Kalanne O’Leary says, “Our main mission is to keep sail training alive, but the economic situation dictates that our own Tall Ship is some years away.” Accentuating the positives, she says, “We have succeeded up to now because we have a coastal vessel, ‘Spirit of Oysterhaven’ licensed to take trainees in coastal water.”

There are also three voyages taking place in October aboard ‘The Tenacious’ which is accessible to the disabled, including those who are deaf and blind.
Surely then, this is the real legacy of the Tall Ships. The economic situation is cyclical but the need for hope for our young and cross-community dialogue for inclusivity and understanding never goes away.

Michael Byrne of Sail Training Ireland encourages anyone of any age who wants to go on a Tall Ship to contact the website www.irishsailtraining.com.

By Rupert Heather