‘Sailing back into Portsmouth was something I’ll never forget’

SHE'S A STAR Lauren Harris on board Lively Lady.  Picture: Steve Reid (114067-704)
SHE'S A STAR Lauren Harris on board Lively Lady. Picture: Steve Reid (114067-704)
Today HNLMS KAREL DOORMAN arrived at Victory Jetty, at Portsmouth Naval Base to pick up humanitarian aid to help with the Caribbean hurricane. Picture LPhot Barry Swainsbury

WATCH: Boat stops in Portsmouth to pick up aid for hurricane relief

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For those of you who throw up your hands in horror at the thought of the youth of today, take a look at Lauren Harris.

She is proof that we should never generalise and tar any group with the same brush.

When we spoke, the former Portchester Community School pupil had just driven to a children’s home in north Wales where she is ‘earning a bit of money in the holidays’ in the run-up to Christmas.

In term time she is studying Outdoor Adventure Education at the University of Chichester and is bringing some of that knowledge to the children with whom she is working in Wales.

She has just been chosen as one of the Olympic torchbearers next summer.

But most importantly, she has just passed her yachtmaster exam at the first attempt – a tough test which many a hard-bitten sailor has taken several unsuccessful shots at before passing.

This means that at the tender age of 22, Lauren, in theory, could sail single-handedly around the world.

But she does not want to. Not yet.

What she really wants to do is sail around the world at the helm of Lively Lady, the iconic yacht in which inspirational Southsea greengrocer Sir Alec Rose circumnavigated the globe in 1968.

But Lauren has no intention of doing it alone, but as the skipper of a crew of young people with limited opportunities.

Which is exactly where she came in. For five years ago she and 37 other young people from the Portsmouth area were given the chance to sail Lively Lady around the world again. Then, she and the others were under the guidance of veteran sailor and ocean adventurer Alan Priddy. She loved it so much she is now running the show.

Lauren, who epitomises the spirit of the Portsmouth-based Around and Around sailing charity for whom she also works, has no sailing in her blood at all.

She says: ‘I had never sailed before – never wanted to and hadn’t even thought about it.

‘Then, one day when I was 14 and working for my silver Duke of Edinburgh Award, I went to a meeting at Paulsgrove and Alan Priddy gave a talk about Lively Lady and his plans to take young people around the world on the yacht.

‘I had never been abroad before, never travelled, let alone done any sailing and it really inspired me.’

She became a graduate of the Raymarine Lively Lady Project which has morphed into Around and Around and travel she most certainly did.

She joined the crew for three sections of that famous voyage recreating Sir Alec’s of 1968 – from Fiji to Sydney, Malta to Alicante and helped bring Lively Lady home to Portsmouth from Guernsey.

Lauren says: ‘All of it was absolutely fantastic – the best thing I’ve ever done – but sailing back into Portsmouth, your home port, after such an amazing adventure was something I’ll never forget.

‘Now my dream is to give other young people the same chance that I had when I was their age.’

Lauren cites her sailing heroes, apart from Sir Alec, as Clare Francis, Dee Caffari and Ellen MacArthur, all famed for the single-minded and single-handed feats.

‘I’d love to take part in a single-handed transatlantic race in Lively Lady, but my dream is to take her around the world again with teams of youngsters.’

That she can now do thanks to the yachtmaster’s certificate she has under he belt.

‘I had never been so nervous in my life,’ she says.

‘I can’t believe I passed first time [it took Alan Priddy three attempts], but once I got out there it was okay because I was just doing what I always do. But the night before the exam I was a wreck.’

And she adds modestly: ‘Yes, I suppose 22 is very young to have passed.’

To gain the certificate, Lauren had to take a yacht from the marina at Gunwharf Quays to Wootton Creek in the Isle of Wight, plotting courses and passages as she went.

She was also tested on her skippering skills, boat handling, navigation and safety awareness.

Now Lauren is spending at least two nights a week and most weekends working on Lively Lady to get her seaworthy again. She’s moored at Port Solent where she has a free berth for life.

‘She needs new decks, new rigging, new sails and a new engine. We’re trying to raise about £200,000 and we’ve got a long way to go, but I’m absolutely determined we can do it. I have no intention of failing.’

It’s that same determination which has seen her shoot from an uncertain teenager who had never set foot on a boat to a young woman with the potential of becoming a top round-the-world sailor.

She says: ‘Sailing on Lively Lady really opened my eyes to the opportunities available to me.

‘It made me realise that it didn’t matter what had happened in my life, if I worked hard enough I could achieve anything.

‘It’s great to be able to show these new young people how their lives can be changed too.’

A HERO’S HOMECOMING

Yachtsman and greengrocer Alec Rose received a hero’s welcome from 250,000 people on the seafront at Southsea.

He sailed back to Portsmouth on July 4, 1968 after his 354-day solo, round-the-world voyage in which he covered 28,500 miles.

The 59-year-old was escorted into the harbour by 400 motor-boats, yachts, catamarans and canoes blowing sirens and whistles. A gun was fired as he crossed the finishing line in Lively Lady at the Royal Albert Yacht Club, Southsea. As he came ashore, he was given a telegram from the Queen - and was later knighted.