By Andrew Wakefield
With a majesty and grace acquired over decades, a stately old lady continues to ride the waves along South Devon’s idyllic coastline.
Provident, an historic fishing ketch, is now a training ground for young people, with repairs and upkeep funded by private trips for tourists.
Manned by an experienced crew of four, up to 12 passengers can embark on a journey which not only offers the chance to experience the true adventure of life on the open wave, but also preserves the heritage of this amazing boat.
One of just 200 vessels on a protected heritage list alongside iconic ships such as HMS Victory and Cutty Sark, Provident is part of the Trinity Sailing family - a charity which preserves historic boats while running training activities for younger people.
Travelling from Derbyshire to Devon to embark on a short break aboard Provident, I little knew what to expect.
I could not have predicted the impact sailing on the open sea would have on me - nor would I have thought I could so comfortably spend several nights in a narrow bunk in a shared room.
I was in no way prepared for life aboard and while I had hired oilskins to keep me dry at sea I was a little concerned about the fact my previous experience on the open waves amounted to a hop across the Channel to Calais on a commercial ferry. However, the many years of experience, the tales of a nautical life long past and the prestigious heritage which imbue the very timber of Provident served to quickly put my trivial worries into perspective.
Every moment on board Provident, which was built in 1924, is a privilege, offering a tiny glimpse into the wealth of sea-faring history which, as an island people, we were once so proud of.
Head of Operations and Skipper of Provident, Nick Legg, said: “The Trinity Sailing Foundation was launched in 1999 with Provident, Leader and Golden Vanity. I joined in 2011.
“We’ll be sailing all three this year around France, Scotland, the Scillies, the South West of England, the Channel Islands, Holland, Denmark, and Norway.”
Nick, who started training at the age of just 16 as a bosun with a youth charity, has since seen many young people coming through the ranks as life on the sea ignites the flame of adventure in their hearts.
He added: “We have people who come back year after year. There are eight members of staff at Trinity, but we also have a pool of dedicated volunteers.
“Our trips are guided by the conditions at sea - we can’t make any firm plans, so when we organise a trip for individuals to join, we sketch out a rough itinerary but keep things as flexible as we can.
“Vessels such as Provident are important threads in the rich tapestry of nautical history and if they were to fall out of use they would simply rot away.
“The only way to preserve them is to keep them at sea and that is why our ships offer a range of activities from chartered trips and youth acitvities to organised breaks for individuals and couples to join in with.
“There are some amazing sights at sea. Viewing the coastline from the water is both beautiful and special, but we have also seen some of the wonders of nature from the boats including phosphorescence in the water at night and dolphins swimming alongside us.”
Life on Provident is a happy marriage of old and new, with the latest navigation technology, modern equipment and state-of-the-art life belts used alongside nautical charts, the ship’s compass and a wooden helm.
And life aboard is a heady mix of learning new skills and working as a team to reach your destination. Passengers are encouraged to take the helm, work the ropes and hoist the sails as Provident travels from place to place.
The fresh sea air and energetic days are tempered by stunningly prepared meals which are both comforting and sociable.
In just a few hours, a group of disparate strangers can become a well-oiled team, taking directions from the crew and working together to guide the boat to harbours new.
From a confirmed land-lubber with no particular desire to experience life at sea, a few days aboard Provident changed my perspective completely.
With her wooden helm beneath my hand and the light sparkling off the waves as we nosed into the historic Brixham harbour at the end of our journey together, I knew that this particular lady had inspired in me a love for sailing, for the sea and a longing to preserve this little slice of a time long past, but not forgotten.
For more information phone 01803 883355, email email@example.com or log-on to trinitysailing.org