On Monday 21 October, Emmaus companions John and Alex set sail with six other companions from the Lambeth, Greenwich, Colchester and Norfolk communities as well as two crew members for five days at sea thanks to the Pioneer Sailing Trust.

Based in Essex, the Pioneer Sailing Trust provide learning opportunities for people to equip them with skills for life, both at sea and on land. The Trust was initially founded in 1999, with an ambition to restore a 70ft Essex Smack Pioneer boat, which fell into decay after a life spent dredging oysters in the North Sea. Restored in 2005 the vessel forged a new life as a sail training boat, now an essential part of the Trust’s wider mission to facilitate learning opportunities through maritime experiences.

Detailing his experience, companion at Emmaus Cambridge, John, said:

‘Life begins where your comfort zone ends!’

This was on the galley wall (or ‘bulkhead’ in nautical terms), when I first went ‘below’ on the Pioneer; the beautiful rebuilt oyster smack that is operated by the Pioneer Trust.

I was embarking on my first sailing trip in over 20 years thanks to Emmaus and the Trust and feeling more than a bit nervous.

Would I be seasick? Would I be too old, at 62, to help hoist the sails and ‘weigh the anchor’? Would I be able live for a week in the close company of eight others?

Any fears I might have had were soon dispelled however when I met the skipper, mate, bosun and crew on a rainy morning in Brightlingsea last month. Despite the weather the skipper and mate inspired confidence and it was obvious that we were going to have an enjoyable and memorable trip in safe hands.

Companions from Greenwich, Lambeth, Norfolk, Colchester and Cambridge made up the crew –none of us were young men – but everyone was really friendly and there was an instant feeling of camaraderie that lasted, and grew, over the week.

Pioneer is a big boat! She needs quite a bit of handling, especially when the wind blows, but we were shown, in a patient and friendly way, how, and when, to pull on or let go of, the various ropes (A.K.A ‘halyards’ and ‘sheets’), and we quickly got the hang of things.

We sailed up past Harwich and came into a remote bay – 18 ‘tacks’ with only eight inches of water underneath our keel! – where we were taken to see the seal colony next morning before returning to Harwich for a much needed shower.

On the Thursday the wind really got up and this was, for me, the best part of all. We had all the sails up, Pioneer was ‘heeled over’ at an angle of nearly 45 degrees and it felt like we were on a racing yacht!

We all got the chance to steer (helm), and seemingly naturally, adopted positions on board to make Pioneer go where the skipper wanted. From the ‘jib crew’ to the ‘mizzen men’ everyone played their part and the feeling of teamwork was palpable.

The food was great, (nice one Tony!), the laughter constant, (and infectious!), I didn’t get sick (no-one did), and my self esteem grew enormously. Yeah maybe I am getting on a bit – I had my 63rd birthday on board – but I ‘pulled my weight’ with the encouragement of my ‘shipmates’. Everyone did!

Sailing on Pioneer is an opportunity that is open to all companions and one I would heartily recommended. It offers adventure, builds teamwork and increases self esteem – probably the best twenty quid I have spent this year!

Huge thanks to Cyril the skipper, Sharri the mate and Phil the bosun for looking after us and huge thanks to ‘the boys’ – you made it a memorable week that I hope I can repeat next year!

To find out more about life at Emmaus Cambridge, please visit here. To find out more about the Pioneer Sailing Trust, visit here.