Every year, 4,500 servicemen and women take to the water to learn how to sail thanks to the Joint Services Adventurous Sail Training Centre (JSASTC).
The organisation was founded by the Royal Navy and the Royal Navy Sailing Association back in 1972 – and 40 years on, the centre in Haslar Road, Gosport is still going strong.
Personnel from all the services have been around the world, taking in destinations such as the Caribbean, the Canary Islands, Australia, Brazil, the United States, the Falkland Islands, Greenland and Iceland.
The JSASTC gives people a chance to do something different to their service role by learning how to sail. And it also gives them a rare chance to work together, learning about the different skills across the armed forces.
Those injured while serving in areas such as Afghanistan are also encouraged to take part in the training courses.
Julian Yeardley, projects manager at the JSASTC, says opening up the centre was something the Royal Navy felt was important.
‘They decided that taking service people out of their comfort zone was a good way of getting them to work in different situations,’ he says.
‘We take them all over the world now. We have taken everyone from the highest rank in the army to the lowest rank in the navy.
‘They get to know what the other armed forces do while they are on board. It’s probably the first time they have done that. We are with them 24 hours a day on a yacht and they can’t get off.
‘We’ve got to stay with them until they are finished.’
And he says that working together as a team is of paramount importance and helps to improve skills needed in the armed forces.
‘In those conditions you make a bond,’ he adds.
‘You form a bond with somebody who is in a similar situation to you.
‘They are working on board, cooking on board, cleaning on board. They are looking after themselves and each other.
‘We go out in any weather, all-year-round. We don’t stop for the weather.
‘For the people out there, they are exploring and meeting different cultures and integrating with new people.
‘They aren’t lying on beaches. They are out there working. It gets very hot and they are lifting sails that weigh half a tonne. We do work them pretty hard.
‘But people really enjoy doing this sort of thing, getting into hard-working conditions. They will probably never get another chance. In the armed forces they will probably do this once in their career.’
As the JSASTC celebrates 40 years of successfully training servicemen and servicewomen from across the country, it also has a special role to play in a national event.
In June, one of the yachts will sail along the Thames as part of a flotilla to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
‘It’s a big milestone for this place,’ says Julian.
‘It’s an achievement. We have been threatened with defence cuts. As the armed forces have downsized, we have as well.
‘But at the moment we think we are pretty safe.
‘People feel that what we do is worthwhile for the armed forces.
‘When people come back from Afghanistan they come here and we take them out. It’s doing something completely different from what they were doing before.
‘We get them on the boat and give them a reasonably good time. They do something different and they really enjoy it.’
He adds: ‘We are delighted that we have lasted so long.
‘There are very few places that we haven’t been in our yachts.’
As part of the training, there are classroom sessions learning about sea survival. Brand new classrooms have been set up on the site in Gosport.
‘It’s all about teamwork,’ says Julian.
‘To survive, we have got to work as a team.
‘We have got all the facilities here and all the kit to work with. We think we are one of the best in the world now in terms of what we do.’
Commander Nick Trundle, officer in charge of JSASTC, says he is thrilled it has reached its 40th anniversary.
‘I think it’s fantastic that we’re still continuing to provide the training and support for the armed forces after 40 years.
‘It makes them better at their jobs. All of the services are thrown in the same boat. It’s a fantastic opportunity for people from the navy to understand what the army and the air force do.
‘For some people it’s a life-changing experience whilst for others it’s learning a new skill, or improving an existing skill and meeting other like-minded people.
‘It gives them time to think about where they are in their lives.’
HISTORY OF THE TRAINING CENTRE
The Joint Services Adventurous Sail Training Centre (JSASTC) was established at HMS Hornet, the site of the old Motor Torpedo Boat base in World War Two, in Gosport in 1972.
Nine large yachts were either ordered from new or bought second-hand.
A training school was then established to enable participants to gain offshore sailing qualifications.
A fleet of smaller yachts soon filled Haslar Creek and rubber dinghies were surrounding the marina as new sailors practised their rowing skills.
In the early days the centre was divided between the services, but now they all train and work together.
In 1973 and 1977 they participated in the Whitbread Round the World yacht races.
The JSASTC fleet of yachts has now been brought up to date with state-of-the-art navigation, communications and electronic equipment.
For more information, go to jsastc.com.
Soldier Sam Dawson, 22, based at Blandford Camp in Dorset, says: ‘It’s brilliant that we get these opportunities, to be able to spend time off doing activities that are productive like this.
‘It opens up a lot of opportunities. This is something we wouldn’t be able to afford if we were in any other profession.
He adds: ‘We get to meet people from different backgrounds.
‘It opens your mind up to new things and also helps to strengthen all the core values which are drummed into you from the minute you start your training. That’s why we do it.’
Matthew Goldup, 25, also a soldier at Blandford Camp says: ‘It’s great. It’s giving us the chance to do things we wouldn’t normally be doing.
He adds: ‘We are working with people who have got so much experience and getting to meet people from other services.’