An Inspiring Voyage: The Transformative Power of Sail Training

By the end of the voyage, these non-sailors had sailed 270 miles and crossed the channel twice!

An Inspiring Voyage: The Transformative Power of Sail Training

  • 9 min read

Recently, we had the honour of being invited by Fowey to participate in an event that laid the groundwork for twinning Fowey with Binic-Étables-sur-Mer in Brittany, France.

From the moment the boats and cars began to arrive until the last person left, the hospitality, organisation, and kindness extended to us were exceptional. It was a great pleasure for all of us, but particularly for the young people on Helen Mary R, for whom this was a life-changing experience!

We had the privilege of having a group of students from Brannel School (and one student from Penrice) aboard, and this voyage was not only a testament to the power of Sail Training but also highlighted the remarkable capabilities of the students and the dedication of their teachers. By the end of the voyage, these non-sailors had sailed 270 miles and crossed the channel twice! The journey reaffirmed how experiential learning can foster positive change in young people, and we felt this might be interesting to share in this blog.

The Journey Begins: From Disparate Group to Cohesive Crew

The students from Brannel School embarked on this voyage as a diverse group, each with their own backgrounds, strengths, and challenges. Although they were from the same school, they varied in age, with the youngest being 13 and the eldest 15, and came from different year groups and classes. One of the first things we do in sail training is break up established hierarchies by splitting the group into different watches. On a sailing boat, a watch system divides the crew into smaller teams, each responsible for specific duties during set periods, or "watches". This ensures that all aspects of sailing—navigation, lookout, and sail handling—are always covered.

The students got aboard around 3 p.m. the day before departure and were immediately faced with stowing food and belongings and running through safety briefings. Straight away, they were immersed in learning new words and terms for everything. The following morning, we set off on a 23-hour passage across the English Channel to France, crossing one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world! 

As the days passed, these diverse individuals transformed into a cohesive crew, working together seamlessly to overcome the various demands of sailing and living on a small boat together. From cooking to sailing, the young people are responsible for everything! This transformation was not a mere coincidence but a direct result of the immersive and experiential nature of Sail Training, coupled with the unwavering support and guidance from their teachers.

The Role of Experiential Learning in Sail Training

Experiential learning, a hands-on approach to education, plays a crucial role in Sail Training. Unlike traditional classroom settings, experiential learning engages students in real-world tasks that require active participation and collaboration. This method is deeply rooted in educational theories, such as Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and Kolb's Experiential Learning Cycle, which underpin the structure and outcomes of sail training.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is a psychological theory that proposes a tiered approach to human motivation, starting from basic physiological needs to higher levels of self-actualisation. In the context of Sail Training, the journey begins by addressing the most fundamental needs of the participants. A long and arduous sail challenges students physically and mentally, focusing their immediate concerns on essential needs such as shelter and food. 

We run a four-on-four-off watch system aboard Helen Mary R. This means that young people actively sail the boat every four hours, making meals, etc., and the off watch gets to snatch some rest. Night watches can be tough, but we spend a lot of time talking about random things, playing silly games, and even having the odd singalong to keep ourselves awake and motivated.

During the voyage, the students were pushed out of their comfort zones, facing the elements and relying on each other for support. This experience strips away everyday distractions (mobile phones and the internet being the worst!), grounding them in the present moment and fostering a sense of camaraderie and interdependence. Upon reaching the destination, the sense of achievement and relief is immense, fulfilling the need for safety and security and laying the groundwork for higher levels of personal growth.

Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle consists of four stages: Concrete Experience, Reflective Observation, Abstract Conceptualisation, and Active Experimentation. This cycle guided the students' learning process throughout the sail training voyage.

Concrete Experience: The students actively participated in sailing, facing real challenges and learning tasks firsthand. This hands-on experience formed the foundation of their learning journey. Beyond sailing, they took on leadership roles in preparing and leading meals, practising their French by engaging with locals, and participating in civic functions. These varied responsibilities provide rich experiences that enhance their learning and personal growth.

Reflective Observation: After each task or challenge, we all had the opportunity to reflect on our experiences. Every evening around the supper table, we rated the day, listed what was good and bad, and reflected on our challenges. These discussions allowed the students to consider what they had learned, what had worked well, and what could be improved.

Abstract Conceptualisation: Through reflection, students began to form new ideas and concepts based on their experiences. They started to understand the principles behind sailing techniques, such as navigation and sail handling, and the importance of teamwork and communication. Beyond technical skills, students also develop essential life skills. 

Active Experimentation: Armed with new insights, the students were encouraged to apply what they had learned in new situations. They experimented with different strategies and approaches, refining their skills and knowledge. Their reflections helped to improve their confidence, allowed them to take on leadership roles, build resilience through overcoming challenges, and enhanced their self-belief by successfully navigating tasks they initially found daunting.

The Impact of Dedicated Teachers

Mr Wiltshire and Mr Morrell from Brannel School were instrumental in facilitating this transformative experience. Their dedication to the student's growth was evident in every aspect of the trip. Mr Wiltshire, in particular, stood out as an outstanding teacher. He spent every waking moment inspiring, guiding, and teaching each pupil French, supporting them in engaging with shopkeepers and members of the yacht clubs. This was particularly remarkable considering many students were initially not confident speaking to adults in English, let alone another language.

The Power of Small Wins

Throughout the voyage, the students experienced numerous small wins, each contributing to their overall sense of accomplishment and confidence. No matter how minor they seemed, these victories significantly built self-esteem and fostered a positive mindset. Whether successfully tying a knot, navigating a course, or communicating in French, each achievement was celebrated and recognised, reinforcing the student’s belief in their abilities.

One of the most memorable moments of the voyage was witnessing the students stand before a crowd of over 70 French and English individuals, confidently delivering speeches in both languages. This achievement was a culmination of their hard work, determination, and unwavering support from their teachers. It was a proud moment highlighting the transformative power of experiential learning and the significant impact of dedicated educators.

On the last full day in France. Our initially quiet, shy group met with students at a local secondary school, inviting them aboard to show them around the boat. They then participated in team games on the beach, a setting that encouraged interaction and collaboration. The transformation was striking: the students were more confident, less worried about giving things a go, and in the words of the French children, they were 'not scary' at all! This change highlighted their newfound assurance and willingness to engage with others, proving the immense growth they had undergone throughout the voyage.

These nine "conscripted" sailors have been an absolute credit to their school, their parents and most of all to themselves. They have been so much fun to be around as they grasp every new challenge. Our hosts in France have had nothing but praise for them. Well done guys! - Gary Barr, Sailing Secretary Fowey Gallants Sailing Club

The organisers of the twinning event were deeply impressed by the young people from Brannel School. Since returning, we have received praise from everyone we speak to. They all remarked on how the students' presence truly made the event something special. Their participation added a vibrant and dynamic element that enriched the experience for everyone involved.

This voyage has shown the profound impact dedicated teachers and experiential learning opportunities can have on young people. The journey from a disparate group to a cohesive crew, applying Maslow’s and Kolb’s educational theories, and celebrating small wins all contributed to the students’ positive growth and development.

We are grateful to have been a part of this journey and witnessed the remarkable transformation of such a promising group of students. The students, teachers, and the entire Brannel School community should be proud of their accomplishments. This voyage stands as a shining example of how experiential learning, guided by dedicated educators, can bring about lasting positive change in young people.

We'd also like to thank the French and English event organisers, who, without their hard work and belief in Morvargh, wouldn't have had this opportunity, and, of course, our own volunteers, who give their time and energy to making our trips as special as they are. Finally, we also need to thank Imerys, who supported the voyage's cost and made it as accessible as possible to the young people taking part.

A Call to Action: Empowering Future Generations

For parents, this is a unique opportunity to provide your child with a life-changing experience. Our open voyages are designed to foster personal growth, resilience, and a love for adventure. Book a place for your child today and watch them thrive as they learn new skills and make lasting memories. You can find our sailing voyages here: 

For teachers and schools, Sail Training voyages offer an unparalleled educational experience that goes beyond the classroom. These voyages can enhance various curriculum areas, from improving language skills in French to understanding geography and navigation, exploring scientific principles in real-world settings, applying mathematical concepts, and engaging with technology on the boat. Collaborate with us to create a tailored voyage that supports your educational goals and inspires your students. Contact us ( or 07481 546577) to discuss how we can integrate sail training into your curriculum and provide your students with an unforgettable learning journey.


Morvargh Sailing Project is a Community Interest Company registered in England No: 07132688. Registered address: Willow Barn, Lower Bodwen, Redmoor, PL30 5AT


Fowey, Cornwall



+44 (0)7481 546577

Vessel Location:

50°20'00.8"N 4°37'46.9"W

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