ASTO - The Association of Sail Training Organisations
Sail Training is among the most successful of all activities to instil confidence, resourcefulness, resilience and self-belief in young people, no matter what their backgrounds or circumstances might be.
Rear Admiral John Lang – President of ASTO
There is something magical about Sail Training, which we know makes it the perfect youth development activity. Compared to shore-based activities, the challenges, risks, and rewards of Sail Training are very intense and real and offer accelerated outcomes over other youth work interventions. On a small boat at sea, participants have no choice but to live and work together, communicate, overcome difficulty, and take responsibility. Perhaps for the first time, participants learn they have value as part of the crew and realise their efforts can achieve something.
We've always believed that one of the successes in running Morvargh lies in the strength of our 'boat family.' This unique approach is reflected in every aspect of our operations, from our dedication to our volunteers to the growth of our trainees.
In that spirit, ASTO is the umbrella body for Sail Training in the UK, of which Morvargh Sailing Project and more than seventeen other organisations are proud to be part. Together, we form a dedicated group committed to the immense personal impact Sail Training can provide. It is impressive the fleet now has over 50 vessels, from traditional square-rigged ships to more modern vessels like our own Helen Mary R. By uniting through ASTO; we reinforce that shared ethos of building confidence and resilience in young people through the challenges and rewards of crew life.
For a small not-for-profit like ours, being part of a broader community that understands the magic of Sail Training is invaluable. We joined ASTO to connect with like-minded organisations who are equally committed to using the intensity of life at sea to grow confidence, resilience, and leadership abilities in young people.
As members, we gain access to shared knowledge and resources that help us run the best voyages possible. Whether it's learning, sharing and discussing operational best practices at the annual conference or having a forum to collaborate, ASTO membership brings camaraderie and support.
Knowing we're part of a nationwide effort to enrich young lives through adventures under sail is reassuring. Though we may set out from different ports, together with ASTO, we embark on the same rewarding voyage of opening minds and expanding horizons through the challenges of the sea.
ASTO’s amazing history
Sail Training in the UK started in the 1960s, and throughout that decade, the Ocean Youth Club came to life, and Lord Amory started the Rona (London) Sailing Project. Our vessel, Helen Mary R, was initially built for the Rona Sailing Project in 1985/86. In 1966, the Sail Training Association commissioned Sir Winston Churchill, followed by her sister ship, the Malcolm Miller, in 1968. From there, the Sail Training fleets expanded, and new organisations emerged.
In the waning years of the ’60s, the Dulverton Trust planned to build and launch a schooner, and Lord Dulverton hosted meetings with representatives from the different Sail Training schemes; this was the first tentative step into coordinating and exchanging ideas about training, safety, vessel manning, etc. These were such a great success that they continued at yearly intervals until 1973 when the group was officially established as the Association of Sail Training Organisations (ASTO).
From that time, ASTO slowly grew, adding new members as they came into being. ASTO’s main contribution was the occasional opportunity to meet and cooperate with member organisations. In 1979, ASTO organised a race from Fowey to the Isle of Man to celebrate a thousand years of its parliament, the Tynwald. We shall have to chat with some of the yacht clubs in Fowey; what a great race that would be now!! Hammond Innes and his wife were also invited VIP guests in Port St Mary.
Hammond Innes, whose generous bequest to the Association in 1998 transformed how it functioned. Ralph Hammond Innes CBE was born in Sussex in 1913. A journalist at the Financial Times from 1934 to 1940, he served with the Royal Artillery during World War II. It was during this time that he began writing adventure novels. His books, set in locations worldwide, regularly feature spies and intrigue, black markets, counterfeiters, liquor-running, skiing, whaling, exploring, and shipwrecks!
On an early voyage, Ralph Hammond Innes sailed as Purser on the Sir Winston Churchill from Portsmouth to Stockholm. At the end of the passage, he asked the Captain if he could write the voyage report:
It was a wonderful sunny morning. Trees blazed like giant flowers in their autumn tints. The Skargard that morning was so beautiful that the dirty weather, the headwinds and the cold were forgotten. It all seemed suddenly enormously worthwhile, and boys who had come on board, raw to the sea, moved now with greater confidence – most of them one step nearer to adulthood.
Ralph Hammond Innes - Vice Patron of ASTO
The experience stayed with him for over 30 years, and he agreed to become a Vice Patron of ASTO, a post he held from 1978 until he died in 1998. In the last few years of his life, he indicated that he was considering leaving a legacy to ASTO to enable the association to continue its work promoting and supporting Sail Training. His wife Dorothy had died before him, and neither of them had close relatives; no one had any idea that the legacy would be the majority of his estate!
What Hammond Innes’ generosity means in real terms is that ASTO's member organisations can provide the adventure of Sail Training to many young people who would otherwise not be able to afford this incredible personal journey and experience the life-changing benefits of Sail Training, enabling them, in Ralph Hammond Innes own words, “to take one step nearer to adulthood”.
Now, full members of ASTO are entitled to receive a Hammond Innes Bursary annually. It is primarily used to fund young people under 26 or people with additional needs of any age to participate in a Sail Training voyage. The amount of bursary awarded to each organisation is based on our ‘berth days’. One ‘berth day’ is one whole day for one trainee onboard an ASTO member vessel during a Sail Training voyage.
But it’s not just an annual bursary that makes ASTO so special. Its mission is to promote Sail Training in the UK and to support the Sail Training Industry not only through financial support to organisations but also through staff training, organising events, organising international exchange opportunities, working with governing bodies such as the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and the RYA to ensure appropriate regulation within the industry and ensuring our compliance with regulations. Finally, an agreement with Trinity House to identify promising candidates within the Sail Training community to receive bursaries to help with training and gaining certificates of Competency at appropriate levels. ASTO runs the selection process, while Trinity House generously provides the funds. All this with just a few members of staff! We can totally relate to this; Morvargh is a labour of love we manage during our spare time (until the Project can employ us); the best adventures happen when you're genuinely invested in them, and ASTO's dedication shines through.
As a relative newcomer to the Sail Training family – we started Morvargh in 2010 – having a friendly, approachable organisation that we can turn to, ask for advice, and chat through ideas is invaluable. ASTO’s approach makes the Sail Training fleet unique because we all try to work together rather than compete. Seeing so many Sail Training vessels in the Southwest in 2023 was amazing. When our fleet gathers, crews glimpse the diverse trainee groups aboard each vessel.
Though the ships may differ, from traditional tall ships to more modern craft like ours, all trainees share the intensity of life at sea. Interacting across vessels fosters understanding and camaraderie amongst young people from vastly different backgrounds and walks of life. It's powerful for trainees to realise that challenges they face aboard are universal - that first night of seasickness, that brush with homesickness, learning the tasks of a watch. Together, our fleet delivers something rare yet invaluable: the ability to walk, albeit briefly, in someone else's shoes out on the open ocean. It is ASTO’s leadership that brings us all together.
Morvargh's mission is clear - Using Sail Training to Inspire and Change Lives. This direct, ambitious goal aligns with ASTO's commitment to youth development through adventures at sea. Like ASTO, we believe in the immense potential of Sail Training to build confidence, leadership, and resilience by removing participants from their everyday environment and immersing them in the intense experience of life aboard a vessel.
Whether through traditional navigation skills, mutual reliance on a watch system, or confronting fears at the helm in rough weather, we know firsthand how a voyage forces growth. From our early nervous trainees to the qualified sailors some have become, the proof is in the pride on their faces when they disembark. With ASTO's support behind us through resources, funding opportunities, and sharing best practices, we can continue working towards our mission and transforming young lives, one voyage at a time. Wherever the winds may take our fleet, ASTO reassures us that we don't sail alone on this rewarding course.
No doubt operating Sail Training vessels carries real financial challenges. Unfortunately, some of the largest ships with extensive staff and maintenance needs have not survived these pressures in recent years. But the risks stemming from cost must be weighed against Sail Training's truly life-altering impact.
While expensive to run, the smaller vessels that form the backbone of the UK fleet continue benefiting youth despite economic hurdles. The personal growth catalysed on a single voyage produces dividends no monetary figure can encapsulate, from boosted confidence to teamwork skills that serve trainees' lifetimes. Sail Training gifts young people the strength to surmount obstacles on uncharted waters ahead. So, amidst financial sustainability risks, we must remember that investment in our fleet’s future fuels the inner resolve of future generations. Something we know ASTO is working tirelessly to help us all with.
Looking Ahead, Vicky and I have set Morvargh ambitious targets for expanding our voyages and reach (read our 2023 Annual Report). We aim to take 168 young people sailing by 2026, reflecting a remarkable increase! This will require securing funding to make voyages affordable and accessible. We also must forge partnerships with organisations that share our ethos and can help us engage disadvantaged youth.
Most importantly, to prepare Helen Mary R for her 40th birthday in 2026, we are trying to fund necessary upgrades and maintenance to keep her sailing for years more - if you can, please consider donating to support our work. This includes new waterproofs, sails, and refurbishing the interior. With ASTO's support and the broader Sail Training community behind us, we are confident that Morvargh will continue pursuing our mission of using Sail Training to inspire and change lives.
As ASTO marks over 51 years of representing Sail Training groups, we hope the organisation continues to be the friendly, collaborative body that welcomes newcomers like us. By pooling knowledge and resources, ASTO enables small groups to achieve an outsized impact. We hope the organisation can leverage its experience with governing agencies to shape a supportive regulatory environment for Sail Training to thrive. With cooperation and passion driving us forward, we are proud to be part of ASTO's extended family, united by the conviction that life at sea opens minds, expands horizons, and transforms futures. Wherever the wind takes our fleet, with ASTO's support, we know we do not sail alone.
If you want to learn more about ASTO, their website can be found at https://uksailtraining.org/ alternatively, if you'd like to find an adventure, we have some fantastic voyages planned, such as Expedition Netherlands, a 37-day expedition to Holland and the North Sea, Scilly Isles Adventure and many more! Find them here: https://sailadventure.co.uk/sailingtrips