Sailing Tectona … ‘All I ask is a tall ship’

Sail training

Paul Wright MNM FNI, Chairman of the Tectona Trust, tells the story of Tectona, and the Trust

Tectona, a 64-foot yacht, was built in Calicut, India in 1928, as a private yacht for an officer of the Royal Army Medical Corps. She was named Tectona after the tropical hardwood tree used to build her hull, making her ‘one of the most seaworthy vessels ever built’. Following completion, she was shipped back to England.

Her early history is sketchy. What is known is that during World War II she worked for the Admiralty and was used to ferry supplies and personnel to and from the Hebrides and across the North Sea. She was not sympathetically cared for. It was said that ‘she was all but ruined, with oak planks added outside her copper sheathing and iron fasteners’. At the end of the war Tectona was ‘gutted to go fishing but never went’. She was ‘later ill handled by a couple of scrap iron merchants’ who planned to sail to New Zealand – a journey that was never made.

In the 1950s she came to the attention of Tom Blackwell, who was related to the Blackwells of the food group, Crosse & Blackwell. He had an eye for traditional craft; he purchased her and arranged a refit to return her to former glory.

Allan Villiers, the distinguished sailor and maritime author, once sailed on Tectona. He wrote an article for the August 1961 edition of National Geographic, titled ‘Cowes to Cornwall: A Cruise Down the English Channel’. He described Tectona as being ‘still rough, and missing her original teak deck-house, but a good ship, and with good gear’.

In the postwar period, the expansion of world trade had boosted demand for merchant shipping and the expansion of cadet training. The Plymouth School of Navigation, founded in 1862, was then developed as a regional nautical college. In addition to their academic studies, cadets under training undertook character-building activities, and sailing on a traditional ship was considered to be of great value. In 1964, Tectona was purchased by the Lord Mayor, Aldermen and Citizens of Plymouth as the training ship for Plymouth School of Navigation. She was fitted out to accommodate 12 trainees and 3 sea-going staff, and operated weekly voyages during the academic termtime, usually in the western English Channel. She became well known in local ports, and featured in the BBC’s popular maritime drama series The Onedin Line.

After 16 years she was sold to a Guernsey- registered company, then sold on to a Swiss charity, Verein Plus, which used her in the Mediterranean and eastern Atlantic to help disadvantaged young people. However, the charity found itself in financial difficulties, so in 2003 Tectona was sailed into Port Napoleon Marina, Marseille, laid up afloat, and put up for sale.

In 2007 Dr Roger Crabtree, a retired Somerset general practitioner who had an interest in sailing and in helping people recovering from drug and alcohol abuse and mental health problems, was looking for a ship. His searches took him to Marseille, where he found Tectona. While she was laid up, certain parts had deteriorated, but her hull was strong and sound. He purchased her, carried out essential repairs, and in 2008 sailed her, crewed by some of his friends and a former skipper, back to Plymouth.

On 5 May, after an absence of almost three decades, Tectona returned to Plymouth Sound, to be greeted by a TV camera crew and reporter.

The Tectona trust

Tectona

All sails set. Photo: Tectona Trust

The Tectona Trust Ltd was established on 12 January 2009. The aim of the charity was, and still is:

to help people of all ages to develop and become mature and responsible individuals through the experience of sail training activities in traditional sailing craft, including maintaining and conserving the craft. Such people to include the socially disadvantaged and those suffering mental health and addiction problems.

The business plan established that Tectona would undertake up to eight one-week recovery voyages for people suffering mental health and addiction problems. But first, Tectona had to achieve the standards required by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency for Category 2 Coding for Sail Training, which allows a ship to sail up to ‘60 miles from safe haven’.

Another issue which had to be addressed was how she was to be operated during the remaining weeks of the year. Eventually an agreement was made with Cremyll Sailing (now the Island Trust) that Tectona would be chartered without any crew for an annual fee of one peppercorn. The Tectona Trust would purchase the services of the ship for the recovery voyages, and would maintain and operate the ship itself. Over the next nine years the development of the recovery voyages became the principal concern of the Tectona Trust. Many initiatives were taken, the University of Plymouth and the Peninsular Medical School both became involved.

Arguably Tectona’s most demanding venture took place in 2012, when, in partnership with the charity Phoenix Futures, she took part in a three-month 1,500-mile voyage around Great Britain. Known as the Voyage of Recovery 2012, it involved 87 people in treatment for addiction. One participant, Neil, said, ‘The voyage was very productive for me, in building confidence, trust in others … it helped me to open my eyes to what can be achieved in my new life.’ Exeter University then carried out a study evaluating the voyage.

In 2013 a medical humanities module, At Sea with Recovery, was designed for students of the University of Plymouth Medical School. It covered issues associated with people who were abstinent and in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, and encouraged trainee doctors to sail on Tectona to experience how sailing a traditional vessel can help recovery.

While a one-off sailing experience can be helpful to a person in recovery, follow-on opportunities are also beneficial, so in 2018 the Tectona Ocean Recovery Club (TORC) was established, providing post-sailing opportunities for social engagement, and involvement in maintaining and conserving Tectona.

In 2018 a joint project, Voyages of Transformation, was developed jointly by MIND, the Shekinah Mission and the Tectona Trust, with the aim of helping local people with mental health problems improve their self-esteem and develop new skills and coping strategies.

That same year the Tectona Trust took over the full operation of running Tectona, by establishing a community interest company, Sailing Tectona CIC. Sadly, Roger Crabtree died suddenly in October. A few days later the trustees agreed to continue the work that he had begun. It was only after that decision that they found that Roger had bequeathed Tectona to the Trust, for which they were hugely grateful.

Dr Roger Crabtree

Dr Roger Crabtree, with TV crew. Photo: Tectona Trust

Not long before his death Roger had entered the Tectona Trust into the National Lottery and ITV’s ‘People’s Project’, and in 2019 the people’s vote resulted in an award of £50,000 to help fund its voyages.

Next, Swansea Maritime Museum offered Sailing Tectona the use of the 1908-built Bristol Channel pilot cutter Olga for an initial five-year period. Sailing Tectona then formed a partnership with Mount Kelly School, Tavistock, which will use Olga for a limited number of voyages each year, planning to introduce every Year 10 pupil to offshore sailing.

Another opportunity came in the form of an informal partnership with the Lynher Barge CIC, which resulted in a shore base – the Shed – for Sailing Tectona, and provided TORC with space for maintenance, storage and teaching. The Shed is located at Mount Edgcumbe, close to the Hamoaze (the lower reaches of the Tamar at Plymouth).

During 2019, Tectona undertook 17 voyages from Plymouth: to Liverpool, Belfast and Paimpol (Brittany), and to local ports around Devon, Cornwall and the Scillies. These were for seven charities, including the Gwennilli Trust, the Kairos Community Trust, Phoenix Futures, the Jatis Project, Safe Horizons, Hamoaze House and the Shekinah Mission.

Tectona participants have also included Merchant Navy officer trainees at the University of Plymouth, funded by Seafarers UK as well as students of Plymouth City College and even the Modbury Cubs Group.

Appeal

While individuals or organisations are expected to make a financial contribution, the Tectona Trust Ltd is able to provide some financial subsidy when full costs cannot be met. This is only possible through the fundraising efforts and the dedication of all involved in the Tectona Project and in particular the sea staff of Sailing Tectona.

Traditional ships are not cheap to keep and maintain. Regular maintenance and refurbishment costs money. However, the returns in terms of personal development are high.

Both the Tectona Trust and Sailing Tectona work to provide a physical and financially sustainable organisation in order to meet its stated aims. This is a tough call in the present economic environment. Donations large and small and offers of support are always welcome! Much has been accomplished but there is much more to be done.

Masefield in ‘Sea Fever’ wrote, ‘All I ask is a tall ship’. The Tectona Project now has major assets in two tall ships and a shed, all dedicated to helping people become mature and responsible individuals through sail training activities.

For further information, visit www.sailingtectona.co.uk – or contact Paul G Wright on 01752 405603, paulwright.plym@outlook.com