OYT South crew members

Sailing with OYT South

Comments from clients and young people each year since 2004

Compiled after a year without sailing in 2020 due to coronavirus, this is a look back at some of the feedback we have received over the years and the many and varied ways in which young lives have been changed by taking part in our voyages.


The Vyne School, Basingstoke has sent 67 students on voyages over eight years and has been able to watch the impact over the long term: staff member Penny says: “These experiences have given life changing skills such as confidence, self-belief, trust and an "I can" attitude. For some of these students getting through to Year 11 and final exams was looking bleak, but the experiences enabled them to complete it and achieve.” She told the story of one boy, the last in a large family, none of whom had completed their education successfully until the youngest was chosen to sail at age 13. The experience helped to integrate him, making him feel recognised and valued in school, building positive friendships and breaking down barriers with school staff. Three years later he left school with a good attendance record and some GCSE passes, to train as a motor mechanic.

OYT South works in partnership with the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust. A young man aged 20 said “I’ve really struggled with confidence post-chemo; this trip has been the first time I've started feeling confident again… It’s definitely the most active I’ve been since chemo so it’s kind of been nice to sort of have that confidence that you can sort of do stuff again, which was much needed and very nice … The amount of laughs and smiles we’ve had has been exactly what I needed, for the first time I started feeling like my pre-chemo self which was so lovely.”

“They’ve learnt more in a week on this boat about themselves – I’ve learnt more in a week about them – than perhaps they’ll ever do in a year or two years at school.” Mark O’Prey, teacher, New Beacon School

“Just sailing in the stars last night and having everyone just in awe of what we were doing, it was amazing, absolutely amazing, seeing the Milky Way so strong last night, it was incredible. Many found real personal strength through genuine challenging experiences – the end of the voyage could now be a beginning … it was a wonderful experience that will live for many years to come.” Group Leader Paul, Skelton Explorer Scouts

“My daughter joined your last voyage with Park House School. Her place was last minute and when I told her about the trip she was less than enthusiastic! (You could genuinely hear her eyes roll!) Well, within hours she admitted she was enjoying it and by the end of the week she was telling me that she didn't want to come home. Now home, she has not stopped talking. Normally if I ask what she has been doing I get the usual teenage grunts! I knew she would be way out of her comfort zone and that was kind of the point. But to have her come home and tell me she is proud of herself for stepping up and doing things she knows she would normally shy away from. That's priceless!”

Poole Harbour Boat Show sponsored a voyage for some exceptionally deserving young people from Dorset. One parent said: “She gained so much from the trip and has come back with a new found confidence and established higher level of self-esteem which has come at a great time with her just about to start her GCSE's so as her parents we can’t thank you enough!”


Photo: Gregg CashmoreHillingdon’s Virtual School For Children In Care arranged a voyage for young people who are in care having arrived in the UK as refugees – one of this year’s group had walked for three months on a journey from Syria to the UK at the age of 13. Post-voyage comments from these young people who have lost their families show how much they are affected by the family atmosphere on board: a 15-year old girl said: “My best bit was how we all just got on like a family, like how we didn’t know any of us, we didn’t know each other at the beginning but as the week went on we all just basically was like a big family”.

The Ormiston Leading Lights Project brought together teenage girls plus highly successful women as mentors. It turned out to be a personal development experience for the mentors just as much as for the girls. One of the mentors, a lawyer, was very seasick on a passage down to Dartmouth and later wrote in her blog: “When a small voice appeared at my side and asked if I was going to go home I said immediately and without thinking, “yes”. But then I thought I heard a quiet sob followed by “It’s not fair Miss” and then louder, “I can’t go home. I never asked to be here. I have to stay on the boat and I don’t want to. My Dad can’t leave to get me and I really, really want to go home.” I felt dreadful. It struck me that I could not possibly go home. That no matter how bad it was, we had signed up for this together and I could not leave – I had to see it through. And I wanted to. I had signed up to this adventure to somehow give something back to those who are coming up behind us and will take over our roles as women in business and what would I be demonstrating if I chose to exit hastily, stage left? In that moment, I could and would be that person who stuck it out and showed that this too would pass and that all would be well. And how immensely grateful I am to that small voice who showed me the value of sharing difficult moments together and out loud and of being real to the difficulty of the moment and how, in acknowledging that adversity, we can most likely get through it."

Outdoor Lads is a charity which enables gay, bisexual and trans men to take part in outdoor activities. One participant commented: “I was really nervous about the trip because I had no idea what to expect and I think meeting everybody like 10 minutes before we came on this boat was incredibly nerve-wracking and I think the nicest part of this week is seeing how everyone has gelled and working in teams and it’s a really satisfying thing to think all the walks of life that we have in this room and everyone’s come together on this experience and I think it’s been amazing. The team here is an absolute credit to themselves, not only are you incredibly personable but you are some of the best teachers around. You don’t just ask someone to do something, we get explanation of it, we’re doing it because of this, you let us problem solve and I really enjoyed that.”

A 16-year old from a special school working with students with challenging behaviours, alongside a range of other conditions which can hinder academic progress, said: “My best part was conquering the fear of open water which is a bit of a problem when you are in the middle of the ocean … I think I’m gonna go and do more after this now I’ve seen I can do this, I’ll go and do more other things and then it’ll all have started from here so I’ll remember this for sort of doing everything else I’ll do.”

An email from a grandfather said: “He truly came back from the voyage a different re-energized young man, which was so lovely to see. He has had to deal with a lot of heartache and upset during the last few years, his father died in 2014 and his other Grandad died just over a year ago from cancer … His mother had to move them to a new house and area, so he changed school just over a year ago, and my grandson has become very quiet and withdrawn … the whole family are concerned for his happiness. So having a chatty, enthusiastic young man brimming with confidence tell us about his voyage on the way home was priceless to us.”


“The young people genuinely developed through the experience. Two want to join sea cadets and one carer explained to me how much confidence the trip has given her foster daughter – she has seen this spill over into other areas of her life, which is gold dust.” Robin Douglas, West Berkshire’s Virtual School for Children in Care

Oversands School is a specialist school catering for young people with complex special needs and behavioural problems. “The concentrated nature of the experience, coupled with the unique environment, produced marked changes in outlook and behaviour of pupils and staff in a very short time. The young people who return at the end of the voyage are very different in attitude from the ones who set out. Pupils left the voyage with a definite sense of having reached some personal goal, and were encouraged to attempt things they would not previously have thought possible, and so take charge of their lives.”

MACS - Microphthalmia, Anophthalmia & Coloboma Support is the charity for young people born without eyes or with under-developed eyes. Robbie Crow, the Chair of MACS, who is himself visually impaired, wrote: “Ocean Youth Trust South has been working with MACS for three years now. During those three years OYT South has never failed to provide a voyage which goes above and beyond the complex needs of our young people. The training standards they demand of their staff and volunteers, coupled with the exemplary safety standards they keep on Prolific, mean that the voyages they provide are always outstanding. In my 12+ years of sail training experience – in capacities of young person, group leader, sea staff member, trustee, trainer and employee – I can safely say that, in my opinion, OYT South deliver the best product for the overall development of young people in the UK market today.”


“Our young person returned from his voyage today and had a wonderful time. He was unsure on Sunday and there were several calls asking to be picked up, however we rode the storm (!) and he has been gushing about all the things he did over the last few days upon his return to the home. He overcame some fears and gained some confidence in his abilities.” Staff member from a Hampshire children's home

HMS President (London’s Royal Naval Reserve Unit) raised funds for disadvantaged young Londoners to sail in 2016. Geoffrey (12) said: “It was so amazing when watchleaders teach how to drive the helm and when we were pushing and pulling every day and you know that gave me some muscle. I was very happy I went to the beach for the first time and it was so fun and we covered David in sand”. One school wrote afterwards: My students had such a great time and have changed their opinions on sailing and the sea”. The other school said: “It was an amazing opportunity and a life changing experience. I have lots more students asking can they go next year. Thanks to all of you for making such a difference to the young people we teach.”

The Limes College in Sutton is a Pupil Referral Unit working with young people who can display really challenging behavior. “Thank you so much for the opportunity given to our pupils this year. They had an amazing time and really took many positives out of their week away. The crew on board were absolutely fantastic and worked so well with our sometimes challenging pupils and they really enhanced their experience. We would definitely like to book again for next year and allow them to experience this again … Many of the young people had never been away from home for a night let alone a week on a yacht. They are still talking about their week away and still looking at the pictures. Some have even said that they wish they were still on the boat!” Libbi (14) said “It was an amazing week. I learned all new things. On the second day we went into the big waves it was very scary – I felt well sea sick - but other than that I really enjoyed myself. I’ve never stayed away from home for this long and was worried at first but I would love to go back and do it again.”

"On a few occasions I have had to remind one or two of the students how to use what they had learned on the boat to overcome a difficulty they were facing. I was really impressed to see that this experience had given them the confidence to deal with the situation in a mature and sensible manner. The students seem much happier since their trip and I believe that they will remember this for a long time to come. I was also speaking to some of our students who were on previous voyages as they wanted to come again. One boy in particular thanked me for the opportunity as it changed his life and his learning perspective. He has really put his head down and is focussing on his studies. Had he not been on the trip, I am not sure he would be as optimistic and confident as he is now." Vyne School staff member


“Thank you for treating each young person as an individual and bringing out the best in them – that is a real special quality.” Hannah, staff member, Hackney’s Virtual School for Children in Care

Step By Step is a Hampshire-based charity working with homeless people and those facing adversity. They sent two individuals to sail with us: one had been in care following sexual abuse and had recently gone through a court case resulting in the conviction of her abuser; the other had been a homeless drug user. Both earned qualifications on their voyage, and their key worker said: “The whole trip sounds amazing and I really do think giving these opportunities to young people is fantastic! I think the work done by OYT South is truly brilliant. I am also so pleased that both people we put forward had an experience of a lifetime and really enjoyed it.”


JACK DIGNAN was born unable to see out of his left eye and, aged 17, sailed with a group from MACS, the charity for children born without eyes or with underdeveloped eyes. He was later chosen to give a speech in front of an audience of dignitaries - including HRH the Countess of Wessex - during the Tall Ships festival in Greenwich. An extract: As we were pulling into Plymouth to mark the end of our week-long voyage, the sea was still with the August sun gently sinking into the horizon, Freddie Mercury was belting out a ballad, and the entire crew were reminding nearby residents that we were in fact the champions. I soon realised I was experiencing one of those magical moments. Turning around to see 15 friends … friends that only 7 days ago, 148 miles and an obscene amount of fish finger sandwiches earlier were complete strangers, and yet, after spending a mere week working and living together it felt like we had always known each other ... As I took a step back to reflect afterwards, I found it difficult to believe the transformation thathad occurred to those of us onboard John Laing, it is truly staggering. Although the sailing backdrop itself undoubtedly does create some amazing moments, it brings out the adventurous spirit in people, and it almost forces them together as a group...As far as I’m concerned, the uniqueness of sail training is what really sets it aside from existing services aiming to provide similar outcomes...."


The XL Group from Sherborne Learning Centre includes young people who are unable to attend full-time mainstream school. One 14-year old girl wrote this review of her voyage: “I was completely dreading going on the John Laing, I didn’t know what to expect, I never thought about sailing on a boat, I always thought it wouldn’t be my thing, not many kids like me get a chance to go sailing. After a while I started to like the idea and I was excited about going but I wasn’t too sure what the crew was going to be like, or the boat. I was so worried that everything would go wrong and it would be my fault and everyone would shout at me … I truly can’t put into words how much I enjoyed myself, I will never forget it. The crew were amazing, they were so welcoming and they didn’t shout they explained and it was quite easy once they explained. It was like a massive family. At dinner we would squish up round the table and we would all be laughing and talking. We worked together to get everything done. My best part was steering the boat, on the way back it was absolutely chucking down with rain. I wasn’t fussed I was enjoying steering the boat too much … I learnt so much about sailing and about myself. I feel so much happier since I came off the boat, my confidence is so much better and I don’t worry as much as I used to about doing activities outside of school with people I hardly know. When I left it was hard I just wanted to stay, I was so close to crying. I would love to come back and do another trip but for next time longer, time goes quickly when you’re enjoying yourself. I couldn’t thank everyone enough for giving me such a brilliant memory, I will always remember."

“Some of the county’s most vulnerable children have been excluded both specifically from school but also socially excluded. Often the most hard-to-reach children find it difficult to engage with education even at a Pupil Referral Unit. They are often at risk from substance misuse, flirting with the criminal system, at risk of violence both domestic and street, all compounded by being excluded from school...The opportunities for sailing, being part of a team, taking responsibility, learning real life skills have been invaluable and instrumental in re-engaging some challenging young people.” Senior Manager, Alternative Provision, Hampshire County Council


"Sail training voyages are an inspirational way of engaging disaffected or out of touch young people. They offer a structured environment enabling young people to remain focused on activities which produce positive outcomes. When young people, removed from their immediate environment, have a positive and enjoyable experience and are able to achieve tangible and real targets it allows confidence and self-esteem to grow and gives them a platform to build on and to raise their aspirations. Sail training voyages are able to make a very positive and often life changing difference to young people disengaged and in danger of becoming NEET (not in education, employment or training).” Zandra Ranger, Coordinator, Gosport Local Children's Partnership

Back in 2009 we had arranged for a 17-year old girl to join a Tall Ships race following the deaths of both her parents. More than three years later, aged 21, she wrote to us: “It was an amazing experience for me, one which I think of often still to this day and will stay with me for the whole of my life...I was very much in need of an opportunity to take some time out - the John Laing experience really helped to distract me from my troubles and give me enjoyment and happiness.”

Lucinda Neall, author of About Our Boys and How to Talk to Teenagers, brought groups of young people from London to sail with us. “A voyage in John Laing with OYT South takes young people outside their normal environment and gives them the opportunity to change their perception of themselves. Having shared in the job of sailing the boat, cooking, cleaning and looking after one another, they come away with a great sense of achievement and improved self-confidence and social skills. It can have a profound effect on those who have had negative experiences at school: most of the tasks are practical and physical and a history of failure can be transformed into an experience of ‘I can’”.


The changes that are made by young people who attend your sailing residentials are absolutely amazing.” Kirsty Cremer, staff member, Motiv8

Hampshire County Council funded a bursaries programme for a number of exceptionally disadvantaged young people. One support worker wrote to us about a boy whose parents were substance abusers: He came back into school bouncing! He's told anyone that will listen what a fantastic time he had. His tutor feels it has really helped his confidence and self-esteem. I asked him how many he would give the experience out of 10 and he said 100! He didn't stop smiling the whole time he was talking about it.”


Chichester High School For Girls brought a group including students whose difficult home situations have affected both their education and their behaviour. Their teacher wrote of one girl: “Before she went on the trip she was one of the students who would be at most risk from permanent exclusion. I am really happy to say that since our return she has been like a different child, I actually witnessed her walking away and not getting involved in an incident in school when before she would have got involved and probably excluded again. She seems to be making the right choices now.....long may it last. And of another student: “During the trip I was able to see what a bright girl she was and given a bit of support she has a good future in front of her. The trip was fantastic for her, she worked very hard and surprised herself …She has since been attending school and has stayed out of trouble….They were both superstars on the boat and I am hoping it will help them to realise what great kids they are and what they are able to achieve as a result of a bit of work.”


“Having a brother or sister with a life limiting condition puts [these young people] in a more vulnerable position than their peers. They often don’t get the same opportunities as their friends due to the complex needs of their sibling, so having this chance to have a week away with other young people in similar situations can relieve the isolation they may feel, give them time to share their experiences and to make new friends. A week on board John Laing is so much more than a holiday. It is a chance for these young people to have a week dedicated to them. Over the week you can see confidences building as they make friends and learn new skills. They are given the freedom to have fun without feeling guilty and to have a break from the caring role they often take on at home. We at Naomi House feel that this voyage is an important part of the support we offer our siblings and that the OYT staff and organisation provide an excellent opportunity for our young people.” Jenny Astall, Sibling Support Worker, Naomi House Children's Hospice

The Wheatsheaf Trust works with a wide variety of people in Southampton, including young people not in education, training or employment. “Sail Training is one of the most powerful tools we have found for teaching people self-confidence, teamwork, trust and the ability to take responsibility – which are exactly the qualities employers look for.” Jonathan Cheshire, Chief Executive, the Wheatsheaf Trust.

The Rotary Club of Hitchin Tilehouse sponsors voyages for young carers: “The difference that a trip like this makes to these youngsters is wonderful to see. They come from a wide range of backgrounds, but all of them help to look after an ill or disabled sibling or parent. They don’t have much time to do the things that other young people do … The team spirit that this trip generates is a joy to see: getting their hands dirty, cooking in the ship’s galley or doing night watch gives them a real feel-good factor. They push themselves to limits they didn’t know they had.” Sue Manning, Youth Activities Chair


“Sailing with OYT South offers Hampshire's children-in-care many benefits, among these being the opportunity to experience working as a member of a team, where mutual cooperation, communication and sharing responsibility are key aspects to sailing a large ocean-going vessel. Sailing also offers the participating children an alternative approach to re-engaging with education albeit outside of a school classroom environment, in which many experience some kind of difficulty either interacting with other children or coping with academic study. The children who sail gain confidence and self-esteem through a sense of accomplishment, as well as benefit from the physical activity and maritime environment, both of which not many children experience in normal everyday life these days. And finally, every child who has participated in the sailing programme has thoroughly enjoyed the experience and always asks to do it again.”Geoff Buss, Team for the Education of Children in Care, Hampshire County Council

Toynbee Hall, a charity in Tower Hamlets, ran four voyages as part of the year-long Aspire Project, for disengaged young people. The project reported significant improvements in confidence and in school engagement. “The sailing trips our young people took part in were a fantastic culmination of the skills and experiences they had throughout their year with Aspire, and we have booked up to go again in 2009. Many of our participants do not leave London very often (or indeed ever), certainly have never been on a 72’ yacht and mostly have not cooked and taken responsibility for themselves and a group in this way ever before.” Jane Fletcher, Toynbee’s Education Programme Manager


Alfreton Park Community Special School works with pupils with multiple physical and learning difficulties: “The group really grew in confidence and worked well as a team. They began to look after one another, which is a great achievement for youngsters with these difficulties. The voyage also helped our teachers grow as they learned more about the children away from a school environment. The OYT South sea staff were absolutely brilliant and put in lots of effort to help our kids.”Rosemary Mackenzie, headteacher


The Teenage Cancer Trust had to pass on the sad news that someone who had sailed with us had died a few months later. “At the funeral her dad read a piece about her sailing experience and how it empowered her and made her feel strong when she was so sick. I just wanted you to know what an effect you had on her.”


Naomi House Children’s Hospice, Winchester organised a voyage forbrothers and sisters of children who had died in the hospice. One teenager commented: “Usually I am shy when I first meet people, mainly because I dread when they are going to ask how many brothers and sisters I have. Being in the same situation as everyone else helped me to feel more at ease and happier.”

Sunnydown School, Caterham works withprofoundly dyslexic pupils. “Sailing can do so much to develop their confidence. Most of them were at mainstream schools before they came to Sunnydown, and will have been really struggling. They often come to us with very low self-esteem, and we have to work hard at building them up again.” Heather Perkins, Senior Residential Childcare Officer

A girl who was starting to rebuild her life after exceptionally traumatic early experiences was awarded funding to take part in the Tall Ships races: “I can honestly say that it’s been one of the most challenging experiences yet; however, Ihave taken so much from this trip and I will never forget it. I always as a child dreamt of doing things just like normal people did, but never thought it would happen. This was way beyond anything I could imagine and has touched my life in so many different aspects; and for that I cannot thank you enough. I feel that this is the start to many endless opportunities for my future.”


“The best residential experience I have ever taken part in - and I have been on a few” Derek Bowen, Neighbourhood Youth Worker, Worthing

“I am writing to thank you for the remarkable work OYT South does for young people with dyslexia and other specific learning difficulties … I have been deeply impressed by how much you can achieve with these youngsters in a short space of time … Sometimes an individual who normally lacks self-belief has got off the boat looking two feet taller.” Bob Collier, Stanbridge Earls School



“It’s really made me think about what I want to do with the rest of my life.” Kirsty