YOUR STORIES: Meet Prolific Sail Trainers Peta & Holly

We chat to 24-year-old Peta, Skipper of Ocean Youth Trust South’s sail training ketch Prolific, and 25-year-old Holly, Sailing Support Officer onboard. Read on to be inspired & for tips to follow in their footsteps…

Prolific Comes to Brixham

If you’ve been following our salty adventures, you may have seen that we’ve been in Brixham lately. We’ve been meeting all sorts of local salty folk and boats, having a great time after a month in Falmouth earlier in the summer.

Last week we bumped into Ocean Youth Trust South’s ketch Prolific, who will be based in Brixham for a little while. As a youth sail training charity, the organisation is sponsored by MDL Marinas, and they are able to moor in Brixham’s MDL Marina as part of this deal. It would be great to see more of them – the south west is definitely a fantastic place to be based. 

Introducing OYT South & Prolific

Ocean Youth Trust South is charity using Adventure Under Sail as a personal development opportunity for young people aged 12-25, taking them to sea onboard their 30-metre vessel Prolific.

OYT South sail with around 450 young people every year, with roughly two thirds being disadvantaged in some way. Most join for a week-long residential voyage, joining in with every aspect of life at sea. 

This is OYT’s second season running Prolific, a step up from their previous much-loved ketch John Laing. 

Meeting the Salty Crew 

And it is the second season onboard for 24-year-old Peta, who took the helm this year as Skipper after helping commission the vessel as Sailing Support Officer last year. An impressive achievement at such a young age, made even more inspiring by the fact Peta has no GCSEs…

25-year-old Sailing Support Officer Holly (left) and 24-year-old Skipper Peta (right) next to Prolific’s bow

Alongside her, Peta has a fantastic team of crew & volunteers who all help take Prolific to sea. A key member is 25-year-old Holly, who took over as Sailing Support Officer this year, and is a commercial skipper and sailing instructor in her own right.

Between Peta and Holly I can think of no two people more motivated and inspirational to lead young people on life-changing voyages. Not to mention that Peta and Holly are still technically young people themselves. So this is one of those awesome stories that definitely needs telling.


Interviews with Peta & Holly

We were lucky to catch up with Peta & Holly for a chat before their next group arrived. 

Here’s what they have to say about their best-jobs-in-the-world…

Interview with Peta

Hello Peta! Great to be onboard Prolific – and thanks for your time to chat. How did you end up as Skipper of this amazing vessel?

When I was younger I was in the Sea Scouts, and joined a voyage with OYT Scotland and the Alba Explorer when I was 15, sailing through the Caledonian Canal. I was surprised when the sea staff recommended me to come back and volunteer, so I did that, loved it, and then became Bosun the next year. When I was 16 I also did OYT’s Young Leader Development course. They invite their top young people from across each season to apply, so I was invited & accepted – we sailed to the Faroes.

That sounds like a fantastic opportunity. Sail training is such a great way in to the industry. Have you sailed since then?

Not permanently – I was a chef in Inverness for a year. It was a commis chef role, and I was on a flexible contract, so I could sail with OYT Scotland whenever they needed relief staff up there. The Chef de Partir I worked alongside said if I was as passionate about chefing as I was about sailing, I would be a great chef, and that’s when I decided to leave and do more sailing.

How did you get your qualifications?

OYT Scotland run their own cadetship scheme, which I took part in and sailed onboard Alba Explorer, Alba Endeavour and Alba Venturer. You basically just get pocket money, but through this I also got the Trinity House/ASTO bursary and went from not even Day Skipper, to Yachtmaster Offshore, in 20 months. 

Did you always want to work towards skippering?

No – I always wanted to be the First Mate. I was really inspired by one of the First Mates I sailed with – they were cool, talked to the kids really well, made us feel confident onboard. I wasn’t always very confident, and I’m quite quiet – so I was very happy to be the First Mate. 

How did you end up skippering?

I was comfortable being First Mate but my friends kept telling me I should, and could, become skipper. It was thanks to their support I thought this was possible. But I knew that I didn’t want to take my Skipper’s Assessment straight away onboard one of the OYT boats in Scotland – a familiar boat in comfortable waters – because then I might feel a bit stuck and not confident skippering elsewhere.

So what did you do next?

I took a year out and went freelance, for OYT South, a bit for the Island Trust, and the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust. I still wasn’t really thinking of skippering, I just wanted to go out there and get some more experience with tide and traffic, not just the relatively quiet & sheltered waters I had been sailing in with OYT Scotland.

How did you find your skipper’s assessment in the end?

The lead up was really stressful, and then as soon as it started, Holly turned to me and said, “Peta, I’ve never seen you so chilled.” I did wonder why I was so unlucky as to have the RYA’s Chief Instructor for Sail Cruising examining me, but as soon as he started getting involved in dropping the mizzen at the end of one day, I thought I must be doing alright! 

Great! And now how does it feel to be skipper?

I started the job last December, going through refit before really taking her to sea as Skipper in Spring 2018. I went through refit pretty anxious, but as soon as we started the season it was fine. Sometimes I take the dinghy up to the bow and think, wow, she is huge! Skippering Alba Venturer? Yeah that would have been cool. But now I feel well-rounded enough. Of course I’m still learning – we make mistakes every day and learn from them. I still look back, and remember how I felt appreciated as a First Mate. Every skipper has their own style but I remember the best skippers being the ones who let you take your ideas forward – it’s frustrating otherwise. 

What’s it like having Holly and the rest of your crew around you?

Holly – she’s my Sailing Support Officer. I’m so lucky to be so well supported, by such great mates. Having such a strong support network is so important. I’m skippering because people said I could do it, and I started to believe it. Sometimes I wonder where the adults are – we had eight staff onboard a voyage the other week, and every one was under the age of 30!

That’s brilliant, and says a lot about sail training. Why are you so keen on sail training specifically?

I’m not interested in super yachts. With sail training I like meeting so many new people. And it’s so rewarding – this week we have a visually impaired group joining us, and it’s going to be great, they all want to come. Every week is different. The groups are different, the volunteers change, the challenges are new – it’s always fresh. 

Have you had any experiences of sail training abroad?

I was lucky enough to do the ASTO/Trinity House international exchange, during the winter of 2015/16. I spent 2 months in New Zealand, including a few 10 day voyages, and Christmas with friends of friends! 

And how did sail training in New Zealand compare to the UK?

The principles were the same, but it is different. Every school in NZ can send young people on a sail training voyage. They take a much more hardline approach, with things like swearing. They also do a lot more adventure, like raft building and hiking days, which I’d like to do more of here.

That sounds like a great idea to bring back. You mention school – but I also hear you have no GCSEs?

Yes – somehow I ended up on a panel of business women, inspiring young women at a talk as part of the Ben Ainslie campaign. I was speaking to an audience of over 100 girls, all about to pick their options for GCSEs and A-Levels, and had to tell them that I was home educated and had no GCSEs! Their teachers’ faces dropped. 

An Interview With Holly

Hi Holly! Can you describe your role onboard?

Hi! My role as Sailing Support Officer is to be a constant presence, really. We often have different crew and volunteers each week, so it’s my job to maintain and progress our procedures with whoever is onboard. If the engineer is away, for example, I’ll make sure the Bosun receives training to take over parts of that role for the voyage ahead.

How does it differ from the First Mate role?

It can be hard not to tread on the First Mate’s toes, but I’ve learned to step back. So really my role started off supporting Peta settle into skippering, and now it’s becoming more about supporting our volunteers when they sail with us.

Can you remember your first ever trip?

I grew up in Birmingham, none of my family were sailors, and I couldn’t see a way in to sailing. But I was in the Guides, and found out about a trip with OYT South, onboard John Laing. So my first ever trip was from Plymouth to La Coruna as part of the Tall Ships races. OYT has a real community feel, with lots of volunteers. It’s great now to say that I work for the charity that got me into sailing.

Have you sailed since then?

No – I started studying Physics at uni, but dropped out. I remember school telling me that university was the only option, but I can see now that it’s not. Kids come sailing with us now and I see them so stressed out about their GCSEs and A-Levels, it’s so hard to see, because they shouldn’t be stressed out about those things. It’s devastating to hear that they think it’s their only option. It’s also what I used to think at their age. Nobody knows that becoming a sail trainer, or other non-academia routes, are real options.

So how did you get into professional sailing after realising it was an option?

I joined John Laing to help with her refit, and that at least gave me a base and I was doing something useful whilst working out what to do next. Whilst I was on John Laing for refit, I got a job with Neilson, and joined the fast-track Yachtmaster course at the UKSA.

What did you think of the fast-track Yachtmaster experience?

Fast-track worked for me, but I did see others pass and become Cruising Instructors and it was probably a bit too soon for them. There were 9 other guys on my course, 50/50 there either straight from college or recently divorced, looking for the flotilla skipper lifestyle. I knew that wasn’t for me, so I passed my Yachtmaster but didn’t work for Neilsons.

What professional sailing have you done since then?

I spent 2015 & 2016 onboard James Cook as First Mate. They work a little differently, with fewer volunteers who stay for longer. I’ve also done a lot of freelance offshore instructing, for exxpedition, Rubicon 3 and Sea Dragon, in Norway, Morocco, the Caribbean and the Faroes. I had the same plan for this season; it’s pretty good getting paid to travel to amazing places.

Wow, that sounds like some fantastic sailing experiences. But then this opportunity came up?

Yes – I was offered the role of Sailing Support Officer this year, and I had to think hard about whether to take it as I had my year lined up. After speaking to lots of people for advice, I started in September 2017, and I’m really glad I did take it. It’s a really good job – OYT South are a fantastic charity, it’s a big boat, there’s skippering potential, and I’m making good connections. And the south west is still beautiful. 

What are your leave patterns like?

We generally work 4 weeks on 2 weeks off – I don’t have enough friends or money to have more than two weeks off every six! My parents live in Birmingham, but I don’t really want to spend two weeks back there, so on my next leave I’m going sailing on the sail training vessel Maybe.

What’s next?

Probably freelance work again – a little bit more offshore sailing. I’d love to skipper for OYT, my ideal would be 50/50 sail training and offshore freelancing. Actually no, 75% sail training. I also have my Yachtmaster Instructor exam lined up in November this year, a gruelling 6 days long, from Port Solent. 

Any final words?

In general, not enough young people know about sail training. But I think I’ve got the best job in the world. Every day is different, and it’s so rewarding. I know how much sail training changed my life, so even when you think you’ve had a bad week, and you question whether you could have run the voyage differently, you’ll receive some feedback – from a parent saying their teenager has become more chatty, from young people saying they had the best week – and you know it’s so worth it. Even working as a sailing instructor with adults, sure they’ve paid to be there and they can make better life choices. It’s still rewarding but it’s not the same. You have to treat seasick adults a little differently, otherwise they get embarrassed! 

P.S. Holly hasn’t mentioned it but we also met her at the ASTO UK Sail Training Conference in Southampton in January 2018, where she gave a seminar speaking about sailing as First Mate with exxpedition. The 72-ft ex ocean racing yacht set off around the UK with an all-female crew to discover more about plastics in the ocean. Pretty cool.

Two Inspirational Stories

Thanks very much to Peta & Holly for sharing so much of their own stories, and giving real insight to others looking to do something similar. Two stories which are so inspirational: two strong women, professional seafarers, sailing instructors and sailors, not to mention youth workers, teachers, crew mates, colleagues and good friends too, working together as a team to help inspire others to also achieve their best.

Ultimate inspiration.

P.S. Yes, not one question about the fact we’re all women, nor a headline to match. Because it didn’t crop up in our conversations once, because we’re all just getting on with doing what we love.

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