Happy 17th birthday 7th Wave!

Who would have thought, way back in 2006 when we first open the doors at 7th Wave, that 17 years later we would be here, standing firm with almost two decades of memories under our belts.

It is hard to know where to start. In 2006 we had 6 boats, 4 kayaks and a mostly empty beach, Port Erin beachfront has certainly seen some changes in that time. Although the bay has stayed pretty much the same. Each year April sees the terns come back marking the start of the sailing season, sharks in late May, motorbikes bring the first flock of people in June. At the end of July the cliffs quiet as the guillemots and razorbills fly back out to sea, August sees the return of the westerlies and by September visitors are looking to migrate for winter. Milner’s Tower continues to keep watch over land and sea as the seasons change and time ticks on by.

To have a business model where income is related directly to the weather at latitude 54 north was indeed probably ‘foolhardy’ as one of my nearest and dearest remarked when this adventure began – an accountant would most likely agree! But I guess it depends on your measure of wealth. This investment has been in adventure and experiences, in helping people overcome challenges, in learning and passing the learning on , in friendships, in shared stories, in community and in memories…

Here are just 17 of so many:

This day in 2007 I tried to leave Jack on the beach with my brother while I took a group of kids kayaking. Jack didn’t like getting wet, but he disliked being left even more. He started wading out after me, I had to go back for him, then learn to paddle with a collie on board, he spent as much time on the water as I did.

Ffinlo was our first ever sailing customer way back in 2006 – he was five years old. We shared many adventures including several close ups with sharks. Ffinlo has spent every summer (and plenty of winters) on the water ever since. He sailed with the Manx Youth Sailing Squad finishing 4th at the RS Tera Worlds in 2012 before moving into the RS Aero class. He’s now a qualified RYA Senior Instructor, went on to lead the St Andrews University Sailing Team while he was at uni there and ably assisted Chief Instructor Alex during the COVID19 pandemic keeping 7th Wave up and running for two years while I was stuck out due to border closures.

“Believe me my young friend, there is nothing, abolsutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats”. This photo of Tom Howitt and Alex Sharpe way back in 2009 shows the bonds of trust between two friends that come with ‘simply messing about in boats’. I think of all the times shared, the stories told and friendships made, the highs and the lows and the cameraderie sailors share in both.

Paul is wheelchair bound, but he has such determination. This was the first time he went solo in a kayak after we had done a few sessions together in a double kayak. I will always remember him saying on this day “This is so fantastic… nobody looking at me now would ever know about the wheelchair”. I later discovered Paul has a talent for drawing, he brought me a beautiful picture of our days out complete with a tern.

“Me and my Arrow, straighter than narrow, wherever we go everyone knows – it’s me and my arrow.” Harry Nilson, The Point
This was the day that our new fleet of Topper sailing dinghies arrived – April’s Fools Day 2010, my brother Dave was helping me, he snapped this – one of my favourite pictures of all time.

Guy Wood was a professional rugby player back in 2010 when this pic was taken. It was very much a case of Little and Large in this boat. Little was 8 year Ben Batchelor, this was one of his earliest days out on the water. Ben’s sailing career has gone from strength to strength, starting his racing days in an RS Tera with the Manx Youth Sailing Squad, he finished 3rd at the 2016 World Championship. Ben sailed for the RYA GBR 29er squad and last weekend was on the winning boat Shotgun at the Cape 31 class at the RORC Vice Admirals Cup.

2012 was the year of the London Olympics. The RYA encouraged Clubs and Centres to host their own Sail for Gold events. This started our annual Sail For Gold Port Erin Regatta and also quickly led to us learning that decades ago there used to be a Port Erin Regatta sailing competition and that there was even a trophy for it. We were able to find the trophy, introduce it to some silver polish and it now features the names of a host of new young sailors including Ben Batchelor – several times!

Manx Youth Sailing Squad 2015. The first training session was blowing a hoolie, but we went and spent a day reaching and learning to hike. A few weeks later the IOM Youth Championship was held at Port St Mary, I was there on coach and safety boat duties. I will never forget this day, it was dead downwind to the start line and blowing ol’ boots again. I knew if I sent them off on a dead run in this wind they would most likely death roll on the way out and not make the start. So I lined them up like ducks in a row behind the RIB and lead them out on a broad reach, into some huge waves off the back of Alfred Pier, I lead them far enough to make it a broad reach the other way to the start line, then I lead them all through a tack and phew – we were on our way. Throughout the entire duration of this, Teddy Dunn is right behind me bawling his eyes out, he does not want to be here at all – I want him to get to the start line. To make matters a little more tricky for me I have Teddy’s Dad in the safety boat with me. I basically instructed poor Andy Dunn to pretend that he was not there and to please ignore his poor crying child. They all started the race. Teddy finished 4th at the 2019 RS Tera World Championship, he is now racing 420s with the RYA GBR Youth Squad. Peter Cope also joined the squad this year. Peter and Teddy spent several championships battling against each other. Peter finished 2nd overall at the 2019 Worlds, him and Teddy won two races each at that Championship. Peter in now sailing Aeros , 420s and anything else that floats and races. Has just qualified as a Dinghy Instructor and in another passing of the batten Peter and Teddy will be coaching the 2023 Manx Youth Sailing Squad.

2017 RYA Dinghy Instructor course with RYA Coach Assessor Alan Jones. Here started one of those friendships that will long outlast the job. Alan has visited every year since 2016 (except the two pandemic years) to run Instructor courses at 7th Wave. It is during these week long courses that I see many youngsters start to grow into the adults they will become. Something about the Instructor course brings out new levels of confidence, independence, responsibility and understanding of so many life skills in such a short space of time. The RYA Scheme really does do a superb job in developing its people from novice to Instructor to Yachtmaster and beyond. The RYA has given me a career that I would not change for anything.

This Girl Can weekend 2017, the first of many. Instructor and Manx Youth Sailing Squad member Izzy Sharpe suggested we put on a This Girl Can weekend to inspire more women and girls to take to the water. This particular weekend saw 10 girls on a Start Racing course and dozens of ladies taking the helm of either a sailing dinghy or powerboat.

2018 A voice pipes up over the VHF radio “There’s a shaaaaaaark!…. right in the middle of the course”. Every close encounter I have had with these graceful gentle giants has left me feeling very humble, very lucky and very small. My all-time top five experiences with nature have all been within half a mile of this bay.

This is another friends for life story, Roo and Isla met on a course at 7th Wave one summer a good few years ago now. Not only do they share sailing in common, but both are talented musicians. Isla plays bagpipes and Roo a host of instruments including the tin whistle. In 2018 Roo busked outside 7th Wave entertaining locals, tourists and all the sailors on our courses. She was fundraising for the Teapot Trust which was founded by Isla’s Mum. Here Roo presents a cheque to Laura and Isla. They are both qualified as Intructors last year and will be leading courses here this summer, I hope we get a session together and “have a tune” or two this summer.

Alex Daniel started sailing with us when he was young along with brother Bailey. Unlike a lot of the others who got the bug and never left, Alex had a go for a while, stopped sailing and then came back to it aged 15. A year later he had qualified as a Dinghy Instructor and was let loose at 7th Wave. He would soon qualify as a Senior Instructor and in 2019 became the first Chief Instructor at 7th Wave. Little did either of us know then that there was a pandemic coming. COVID forced some tough decisions, mine being the choice between heading home to a heap of uncertainty as borders were closing staying working at Necker Island which would guarantee the bills would be paid if we were not able to open the doors that summer. Sometime in July 2020 he called me to ask if they could open 7th Wave without me. “Of course you can” was the reply. Even then neither of us knew that this would turn into a two year arrangement. Needless to say the gratitude I have for this young man knows no bounds. He took a firm grip of the tiller and successfully steered 7th Wave through uncharted waters and out the other side.

Betty Ford, the tractor that has brought me both tremendous amounts of joy and plenty of tears. I have lost count of how many times a Watterson has received a phone call which starts “the tractor has broken down on the beach”. Every time they have arrived immediately to assist and even the times that the breakdown was my fault they never lost their tempers with me and always quietly, calmy twisted this, adjusted that, tapped that and gotten her going again. She is like having an extra person on the team with plenty of muscle to get things moved around, boats launched, mooring chains pulled, vehicles towed out of the sand. She has also been a 15 year course in diesel engines and basic mechanics – every day is a school day and I am still happily learning, although I do wish that someone had pushed me toward Motor Vehicle Engineering class at school instead of the drawing pictures classes.

Working in conjunction with the amazing Michelle Stewardson of Saltworks SUP on this day in August 2019 we had the biggest day ever at 7th Wave with a total of 72 people on the water, this included our usual Youth Sailing Week students and a party of 40 odd scouts from Belfast, one of whom aptly described himself as “feeling like a helpless little penguin” in a wetsuit as they headed out to the kayaks and paddleboard session. We very much enjoyed teaming up with Michelle and hope we can do more together in the future.

Full circle, the 2012 Sail for Gold Regatta entrants present the Port Erin Regatta trophy to the 2019 winner Ivan Nicholls. Ealish Green, Ben Batchelor and Ffinlo Wright have all grown up with and part of 7th Wave. It brings me much joy to see the batten firmly passed and they are continuing the work that we started back then – before Ivan was even born!

2023 and we are reunited after two and half years, meanwhile in Ukraine people are now forced apart again, this time by war. This painting was presented to our team as a Thank You gift by 11 year old Timor, he wound up here on the Isle of Man with his mother as a refugee from the war, his father was still in Ukraine. Timor had tried sailing in Ramsey and his host family had found us after that. We were so happy to be able to do something for this family and a couple of weeks sailing may seem like a drop in the ocean when looking at the bigger picture. It turns out that Timor’s dad is a sailor, so we hope that one day very soon he can go back to Ukraine and share sailing stories with him. The acts of kindness that may seem so small are often often the biggest gifts we have to give. I finished our 16 season acutely aware of the privilged life I have been fortunate to enjoy, humbled often when I listen to the stories of others and I have a greater understanding the ‘why’ behind what we do. Ultimately sailing is our happy place it makes us smile.