ST JOHN’S volunteers are taking to the seas as part of a Leeuwin Foundation initiative to help people with intellectual, sensory, or physical limitations experience an ocean voyage.
Spending five days learning to sail on Australia’s largest sail training ship requires teamwork and perseverance, so it’s a challenge for able-bodied budding sailors but an absolute leap of faith for someone with Down syndrome, autism or a sight-impairment.
But 24 youngsters got the chance to sail the Leeuwin in November as part of a program called Ultimate Challenge, with 16 carers from St John’s and the health department helping them climb masts, haul lines and scrub the deck.
Volunteer ambulance officer Lindsay Ryan said sailing a tall ship was a learning curve, particularly when looking out for others who had a range of different physical and mental capabilities.
But he reckons it was worth battling sea sickness and squeezing into a tiny cabin to see the trainees come out of their shells.
“The trainees, you didn’t know any history of them, what their capabilities were … we had to remind ourselves that we weren’t there for ourselves, we were there to help these kids have a good time,” Mr Ryan said.
“Some of them took to it like ducks to water, but some of the kids were well out of their comfort zone … there were a few meltdowns and things like that.
“It would be fair to say that I travelled the full emotional spectrum several times during my five days at sea; from stories that bring tears to your eyes to the smile of confidence when somebody finds an inner strength they didn’t realise they had.”
Climbing the 33-metre main mast to find a secret message was one of the most popular challenges, and Mr Ryan was surprised by how many trainees conquered it.
“I thought ‘there’s no way he’s going to get up there,’ but he did with a big smile on his face,” Mr Ryan said of one shy trainee.