‘Life-changing’ sailing program restores confidence of young Scots after Covid isolation

Working from home in Airdrie, he felt “totally isolated from the world”.

Harry Hunter, 18, from Kennoway, Fife, has struggled to work as a landscaper and carpenter.

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And the mental health of Abby McLeod, 31, “plunged” during the lonely months of lockdown at East Kilbride.

The yacht in Tobermory.

These young people had never met before, but after spending five days on a Clipper Race sailboat learning to sail off the west coast of Scotland, they all had the same experience.

Our Isles and Oceans is a new project funded by private investors, which aims to get young people back on track after the setbacks of the pandemic.

Applications were opened at the start of the year and around 40 people between the ages of 18 and 35 were selected to participate in the funded opportunity, in partnership with Clipper.

The organization is the first British team to enter a boat in the 2023-24 Clipper Race around the world, and it is hoped that some of the youngsters who learned to sail this summer will be funded to participate.

Abby McLeod said it was one of the best experiences she has ever had.

Mr. Hunter would love the chance to participate in the round the world race.

Having never sailed before, since his return from the Our Islands and Oceans experiences, he feels drawn to the water and now dreams of living on a boat one day.

“I have ambition now,” he said

“It makes you wonder what life really is.

The highlight for David Cunningham was the night sailing.

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“It helped me with my sanity, thinking that if I can do this I can do anything. It has helped me with everything in life since I came back, I have just been a happier person.

Covid-19 “blew up the ladder” that many young people were just starting to climb in their careers and social lives, believes project co-founder Anthony Stodart.

Mr. Stodart, a farmer and managing director of outdoor clothing retailer ArdMoor, is also an avid sailor.

Harry Hunter said he gained ambition through the program.

He and his co-founder David Stewart Howitt, a former sailor, wanted to empower young people by offering them an opportunity related to sailing and the outdoors.

“What better environment to bring people together than to be on the ocean? Said Mr. Stodart.

“You have to work as a team and you have to come together.

“You might not like people, but you have to pull the rope because it takes more than one to pull the sails.

“It’s a great leveling experience, because the sea can be a friend and it can be an enemy, but if it’s your enemy, you have to work together to overcome it.”

The organizers of the program hope that it will continue as a long-term project. They plan to perform the same short experiments next summer, and in 2023, and then compete in the round the world race in 2023-24.

Program participants take a well-deserved break.

And the young people who participate will have continued support, said Stodart.

“We see ourselves building the Our Isles community, where everyone who has lived it becomes an ambassador for the program itself and for each other,” he said.

“And we’re here for as long as they need us. If they want to come back to us in three years and ask for help… we’ll still be there.

Harry Hunter found the experience a challenge at first and struggled to sleep on his first night on the boat.

But he quickly got used to it, helped by his new teammates.

“We were cooking in the kitchen next to each other, we were cleaning next to each other… once you are on the boat, it is as if all outside life had it doesn’t matter, because you’re there on this boat and you live it and that’s what you do, he said.

For David Cunningham, the experience “changed your life”.

“During the pandemic it was really difficult,” he said.

“I felt really isolated, away from my friends and having to work from home… feeling totally isolated from the world.

“I felt like a shell of the person I was before.”

Mr Cunningham, whose job it is to coordinate a mentoring program for youth, found that working from home and interacting online increased his anxiety.

When the restrictions started to loosen this year, he found himself feeling like a young teenager again, learning to interact with others.

The prospect of spending several days on a boat with ten strangers made him “really nervous”, but once he arrived his opinion changed.

“It was so amazing meeting new people,” he said.

“I realized how resilient I really am, that’s what that taught me. I thought I wasn’t a strong person, but in the end, I had met lots of people, learned new skills, and realized I was more resilient than I thought I was.

Abby McLeod was also nervous before the experience.

She had anxiety before the pandemic, but found that the lockdown increased that and her sense of isolation.

But it was one of the “best experiences” she had ever had.

A highlight for her was receiving feedback from the experienced skippers of the Clipper, who made up the group.

Ms. McLeod works for herself as a caregiver, so there is usually no one to give her comments or encouragement.

“It was really, really emotional to hear people say all of these things about you, especially when I haven’t been with new people for so long,” she said.

She is now “much more confident” in herself and more willing to meet new people and try new things.

“It totally encouraged me and I feel more comfortable being social,” she added.

Mr. Cunningham’s highlight was night sailing, although he found it to be the scariest part of the sailing activity.

He said: “The highlight for me was just during night sailing, sitting there staring at the stars with people who have been through the same or similar thing as you during the pandemic, and realizing that you are not alone.”

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