Jack Dignan

Speech by relief bosun Jack Dignan

At the Greenwich Tall Shps festival 2014

Before the Tall Ships festival in Greenwich in September 2014, members of the Association of Sail Training Organisations were asked to nominate a young person to give a speech to an audience including royalty (HRH The Countess of Wessex) and many other dignitaries, on board the sail training vessel Tenacious in Woolwich.

The person chosen was Jack Dignan, aged 17, who originally sailed in John Laing with a group of young people who were partially-sighted. Jack earned a recommendation to come back as a relief bosun and has since done more voyages in John Laing.

Jack's speech was outstanding, in terms of both content and delivery - so much so that Dr Maggie Atkinson, the Children's Commissioner for England, who was in the audience, told him he should be a future Minister for Education. She also asked him whether, before he got involved in sail training, he would have had the confidence to stand up and speak in front of an audience like that. No, said Jack.

Here's Jack's speech:

As we were pulling into Plymouth to mark the end of our week-long voyage, the sea was still with the August sun gently sinking into the horizon, Freddie Mercury was belting out a ballad, and the entire crew were reminding nearby residents that we were in fact the champions. I soon realised I was experiencing one of those, magical moments. Turning around to see 15 friends… friends that only 7 days ago, 148 miles and an obscene amount of fish finger sandwiches earlier were complete strangers, and yet, after spending a mere week working and living together it felt like we had always known each other. This sense of togetherness and camaraderie with all those on board is one of the many aspects of sail training that I see to be very beneficial.

Since a young age, I have always enjoyed watersports, and have had a lot of experience in dinghy sailing and canoeing, but until April this year, I had never set foot on a yacht. I was born unable to see out of my left eye, and so my first trip with Ocean Youth Trust South was organised through a charity I belong to. I was then asked to come back and train as a relief bosun, which I did earlier this summer, ready to go on another voyage I look forward to later this season. I hope to continue sailing with OYT South, and hope to train up to becoming a watch leader, and a 3rd mate as soon as I can!!

Without doubt, the best element of the entire experience is the people. Meeting people from such diverse backgrounds. We were thrown together, each bringing, something different and in some cases new to the table. Chatting to, getting to know, and gradually over the course of the journey, forming a team with these people really is quite a humbling experience. As I took a step back to reflect afterwards, I found it difficult to believe the transformation that had occurred to those of us on board John Laing, it is truly staggering. Although the sailing backdrop itself undoubtedly does create some amazing moments, it brings out the adventurous spirit in people, and it almost forces them together as a group. As the days progressed, many crew members flourished and really thrived in this new environment, and as far as
I’m concerned, the uniqueness of sail training is what really sets it aside from existing services aiming to provide similar outcomes.

So, unsurprisingly, having to say goodbye after such a thrilling journey is emotional…saying goodbye is by far the most difficult part of the trip. I cry at almost anything, so to say that I well up when it comes to leaving does not prove much, but to see people you have come to be good friends with go their separate ways really is a sad moment for everyone. However, everybody exchanging contact details and staying in touch really does prove that on board you do make strong friendships that go beyond the time on board!!

Sail training voyages have not only helped me rapidly obtain key sailing skills, but also gain further social skills. Never before have I had a clearer indication of the things in life that truly matter. Going away and realising that over the course of the trip I never reached for my phone…I never wanted my laptop, I never wanted to take a sepia photo of my coffee and show it off to the world, was - to say the least - refreshing, as well as unprecedented. I found that working with these young people
also confirmed my desire to want to work with young people, and go into teaching for a future career. I soon discovered that above all else, the opportunity to create new, valuable friendships, and to share experiences was incredibly inspiring!!

I fully appreciate that it is (of course) possible to learn a particular set of social skills in the classroom. HOWEVER, I do not think that the opportunity to: build confidence…to: teach tolerance,… to: witness development - is in any way comparable with the opportunity that programmes such as those provided by Ocean Youth Trust South. Given the common perception of youth in the country today combined with the associated stereotypes, making the decision to come on such a voyage can be difficult. Making this decision, and playing a part in the team on
board completely dissolves these untrue assumptions. Making such a decision proves that, when given the challenge and when given the opportunity…and even when pushed beyond their comfort zone, the compassion, the determination and the support offered from one friend to another, is something really quite special.

“Absolutely hysterical from start to finish. Could not have wished for a better team on the boat.” Jenna, 21