With Black Lives Matter hitting the headlines in 2020, Scaramouche Sailing Trust’s Jaydon Owusu and Tyler Harriott wanted to share their experiences of the UK sailing community

The global issue of racism, institutional or overt, is right at the top of most sporting governing bodies’ agendas.

Discussions range from immediate incidents to the nature of structures within all institutions and the opportunities provided.

Sailing has a unique challenge in many regards. Historically, it is seen as a white, wealthy sport which is difficult to break into and very expensive to progress in.

Two students looking at a chart as part of a lesson on navigation

15-year-olds Jaydon Owusu and Tyler Harriott sail the trust’s Intro 22. Students also have access to dinghies, 420s, Squibs, dragons and training yachts, including the German Frers 45, Scaramouche, many of which the students have restored themselves. Credit: Jon Holt/Scaramouche Sailing Trust

But let’s look at the reality for our Scaramouche Sailing Trust teammates.

Our team is 90% Black and 100% Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME).

We also have many young sailors, so are well placed to share our experiences.

The right advice for the Scaramouche Sailing Trust

After the 2017 Fastnet Race, we decided we would focus on dinghy sailing in 420s and a 29er, and we needed the right advice.

David Franks, the fleet captain of Etchells, who came in to help us, brought in David Bedford, Matt Reid and Martin Evans – all hugely experienced, decorated and established in the sport.

It was initially suggested that integration not separation would be the best course of action, effectively splitting us up and putting us with more experienced crews to gain racing experience.

David Franks cracked the problem.

He identified that this would always make us the weakest link, by virtue of our lack of experience.

A student practicing sailing skills

Keeping sailing skills sharp took some imagination during the COVID-19 pandemic. Credit: Jon Holt/Scaramouche Sailing Trust

Instead, he suggested putting us together and then putting in a good coach.

The enthusiasm of our fellow crewmembers Montel and Camillo was matched by the experience of Matt Reid.

The boys were highly competitive, learning in every race.

But to access the sport competitively is expensive.

David Franks stepped in again, providing them with a fully funded Etchells, year in, year out.

We also have our 45-year-old Intro 22, Riot.

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We knew that our experience winning in dinghies could be years away, but with the right strategy, advice and intellect, winning a race on IRC handicap could be possible.

Riot was an old boat, and the cloud of expense was always going to catch up with us, until North Sails stepped in.

Having already provided sails for our German Frers 45 Scaramouche, the firm agreed to make a complete suit of sails for Riot.

This donation opened our eyes.

Suddenly we were getting a tour of a global company’s factory.

It was inspiring to see jobs we could realistically do in the future, and enjoy.

With the new sails came a renewed justification for working on ‘our boat’.

The sight of us all scraping, filling and fairing over 10 days to make the hull as smooth as possible is a thankless task ‘proper’ sailors know and talk about.

We have finally joined the community – evidenced by the fact that having tried so many combinations of crew and sails, we have finally realised what every sailor knows – a boat will never be truly finished!

Safety barrier

Safety is the biggest barrier, especially if you have parents who have no in-depth knowledge of the sport.

Being a school, safety is also our biggest concern.

Spinlock supplied us with deck vests, buoyancy aids and deck gear several times, and serviced them.

This is a company that wants to promote diversity and, by definition, protect our lives.

Community and Belonging

Institutionally there are, of course, barriers.

It feels like our opportunity to progress in some strands of the sport has passed us by.

To progress to National standards, access to transport and a boat from a young age is needed, which does need to be overcome.

But our BAME sailors have seen what they can do in dinghies and many have followed other routes with bigger boats to achieve life-enhancing outcomes.

Increasing diversity within sailing also has much to do with the social side; feeling ‘at home’ before and after sailing at social events is important.

Lymington Town Sailing Club, and Nick Hopwood have made efforts to break down all of these barriers.

With an active dinghy racing scene, the club provides mass participation as well as high standards.

By enabling a rolling membership, our team have overcome barriers and now feel a sense of belonging.

Our Scaramouche Sailing Trust teammate Jessye is a good example.

His Topper was dug out of a field in Muswell Hill, and then restored by him.

A student with the Scaramouche Sailing Trust sanding wood as part of renovation work on an Intro 22

It took students 10 days to renovate the Intro 22, Riot. Credit: Jon Holt/Scaramouche Sailing Trust

But, he wanted a new challenge.

So in his Topper, at 0600 to be with the tide, he set off on a freezing, drizzly February morning and sailed solo from Gosport to Cowes to Lymington.

Not a National standard bit of sailing, but a personal challenge for him, completed out of sight of everyone.

Until of course he entered the Lymington Town Sailing Club clubhouse to rapturous applause.

Sometimes it’s the small gestures that can build self-esteem.

You can’t analyse participation in sailing without reference to money.

Sailing is expensive.

Sometimes making change needs what Darren Doherty described as ‘heavy lifting’.

He works in Lloyd’s of London’s Dual Group.

As a member of the Lloyd’s Sailing Club he hired the Lloyd’s X55 class yacht Lutine for 2017’s Cowes Week, providing a key breakthrough for Scaramouche helm Montel Fagan-Jordan.

Montel went on to be named the 2017 YJA Young Sailor of the Year, the first Black Afro-Caribbean sailor to achieve this.

Montel Fagan-Jordan sailing with Alex Thomson

Montel Fagan-Jordan went on to complete a placement with Alex Thomson Racing. Credit: Alex Thomson Racing

Whether any of the donations of time, equipment or finance were intended to specifically help young sailors of BAME backgrounds or whether they were intended to help enthusiastic young sailors doesn’t matter – it has achieved that outcome.

When people consider discrimination against the BAME population, maybe they assume sailing has a problem.

Our Scaramouche Sailing Trust teammates are aged from 11 to 20. None of us have ever felt discriminated against; actually it’s the opposite.

We have found the sailing community (of which we are a part) to be positively helping young sailors like us, even if they don’t intend to as their main objective.

The challenge is to get other Black youngsters to try the sport and experience these opportunities.

Many sports could learn from sailing.