Sail training unites Irish and migrant youths

Asylum seekers take part in Safe Haven Voyages initiative off Cork coast

Crew members and participants in Safe Haven Voyages on board the ‘Spirit of Oysterhaven’, docked in Cork city. Photograph:  Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

Crew members and participants in Safe Haven Voyages on board the ‘Spirit of Oysterhaven’, docked in Cork city. Photograph: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

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Before last Monday, Victor Springbok had never been on a boat. A week later, the 22-year-old knows how to steer a vessel through “wild Atlantic waters”, understands Irish tides and can make it through an ocean voyage without getting seasick.

“I overcame seasickness by just keeping busy,” says Springbok. “We were very busy, learning about the boat, putting the sails up and down. It helped [me] forget the sickness.”

Springbok, from South Africa, is one of the seven men aged between 18 and 22 who yesterday completed a week’s sailing on the Spirit of Oysterhaven sail-training vessel off the coast of Cork. This week brings to a close the 21m schooner’s circumnavigation of the Irish coast, which began in Cobh in June.

Like two other crew members, from Zimbabwe and Malawi, Springbok is an asylum seeker living in direct provision. The three joined four Cork men and two professional crew members on Monday to embark on a week’s sailing as part of the Safe Haven Voyages initiative launched in June by immigration and human rights lawyer Shauna Gillan.

The not-for-profit ran a pilot week in July when children from Sligo joined members of Ireland’s migrant community from Ghana, Kenya, Malaysia and Zimbabwe to sail from Sligo to Galway, covering 200 nautical miles over five days. Earlier this month, Gillan organised a further week of sailing with young asylum seekers living in a direct provision centre in Cork.

“It takes everyone out of their comfort zone,” says Gillan. “Phones are off and they’re very present in the experience. They’re connected to nature, the outdoors and see Ireland in a new light from the sea.”

Integrating Irish youths with younger members of Ireland’s migrant community gives the crew a chance to share their cultures and talk about different backgrounds, she says.

“It’s a real levelling experience. It doesn’t matter what background you come from, whether it’s middle class, working class or living in direct provision. You’re on a boat facing the elements. Everyone is a crew, a team.”

 

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