Celebrating National Volunteers Week: Denning’s Story

Celebrating National Volunteers Week: Denning’s Story

It’s Volunteers’ Week across the UK and at the Trinity Sailing Foundation we would like to celebrate the hardworking people who give up their free time for us year-after-year.

Thank you to everyone who has volunteered for us since the charity was formed back in 1999. People like Helen Denning who is working with us this season.

Denning – as she likes to be called – was born in London, but has spent a lot of time in the USA and went to high school in the White Mountains of New Hampshire taking an unconventional secondary education path, rooted in experiential education which spawned an interest in sailing.

She said: “I studied science, history, English and math contextualised within life on a traditional sailing vessel in the Atlantic Ocean, or travelling across the American West by bus, bike, kayak and harness. I spent vacations gardening, farming and sailing on the Island of Martha’s Vineyard.”

Since the 20-year-old graduated high school, in 2013, she has been working and volunteering on historic sailing vessels and in wooden boatbuilding yards, in both the USA and UK, gaining skills as a traditional seafarer.  Denning plans to go to University, after her season with Trinity is over,  to study Marine Biology.

She said: “In the world of traditional sailing, volunteering is a natural thread along the pathway to becoming a good seafarer. Therefore, I seek out interesting projects, programmes and organisations to learn the skills of maintenance and seamanship that the crews onboard have to teach. On and below the decks of the old time sailing vessels are people with a lot of knowledge and wisdom to offer up and so I lend my hands and absorb as much as I can.

“I was drawn to Trinity because of the strong work ethic and appreciation of traditional maritime trades that the crew members, I knew, practiced.  I arrived, on my bicycle, during the second to last week of the winter refit and threw myself into some woodworking projects under the instruction of the skipper and mate.

“I felt appreciated for this work and helping with the preparations for sea during the following week. Making up the bunks, launching the dingy and provisioning Leader for her first voyage of the season. I understood immediately that I was taking part in crucial work to get a beautiful vessel to sea in a matter of days.

“The onboard community was made up of the professional crew and a constantly rolling selection of volunteers. Some who like myself were camped out in the berths up forward and others who came down regularly from their local abodes. People from all different backgrounds lifting, sealing, stowing and lashing together for the moment the crew would slip her warps and take her outside the comfort of a sheltered harbour.

“The orderly manner of a well run vessel during the day, gives the onboard community the luxury of a stress free evening when we pack up the tools and take turns in the galley to cook the evening meal. Soon I got into the routine of morning meetings and the little scraps of paper I carried around with me to remember my tasks. When the Spring sun fell over the palette of coastal cottages in the hills, I felt the distinct sense of accomplishment, something was sanded or painted or fastened or stowed away and another sail was bent on; Leader was on her way.

“I gained a lot from volunteering with the Trinity Sailing Foundation, I had a realisation about the reasons that cause me to work hard. I am working hard for myself of course, but it is not obvious why without that direct idea of being paid. I am working for skills, for an old vessel that needs care and attention, for the thrill and anticipation of adventure at sea, for the way sailing can introduce a person to a different lifestyle, for the way young people get enthused about that lifestyle. I work hard when I feel that I am needed and appreciated and that the tasks I perform are vital. I work hard in the hopes I will become a good sailor. I work hard when I am in a place of learning. Leader is such a place and I learned here, the effectiveness of working hard, or maybe “living” hard would be closer to the truth, when a community of people are organised, calm and happy.

“I benefited from my volunteering experience and I think the young trainees we had aboard during voyages did too, because there was one more personal involved with the working of the vessel, another person who was familiar with Leader because of those previous days of maintenance, who could help guide tasks like sail handling and knot tying. Another voice and another ear in the strange new environment of a 124 year old wooden sailing vessel at sea.

“These past few weeks have caused me to realise what I have to offer as both a pair of hands and a personality. On sunny days, pink misty evenings and starry nights, I felt prepared, useful and I was learning all the time. Volunteering at its finest.”

Everyone at Trinity Sailing would like to pass on their warm thanks to all those, like Denning, who have given up their time to help us over the past 16 years.