QBE adventure sailing holidays for teenagers along the Breton coast aren’t ordinary – they are life-changing experiences…
Jessica Anderson and her husband are both healthcare professionals who live in Montana (USA), near Yellowstone National Park. Nichola Waygood is an artist in Edinburgh. And Francesco Stella is a successful businessman in Milan. Different countries, different vocations, different circumstances. But they all share one thing in common: in 2022 they all elected to send their teenage son or daughter sailing with Will Sutherland in Brittany, one of France’s premiere sailing areas and a world away from home.
The captain and his crew
QBE director Will Sutherland is an experienced sailor and inspiring mentor who has taught outdoor and life skills his entire professional life. QBE, the company he founded more than 30 years ago, stands for “Qualified By Experience,” and that is the philosophy at the heart of his singular maritime expeditions.
These are no ordinary holidays – they are extraordinary adventures on the waves, where friendships are formed and lives are changed as sailors are made, with or without any previous yachting experience.
It’s an opportunity for teenagers to expand their horizons while interacting with a team of peers to undertake challenging tasks in a safe but unfamiliar environment. And it all takes place on two gaff-rig sailing vessels that are based in the historic port of Saint-Malo.
Crews live aboard for two to three weeks and sail the boats for up to 1,000 nautical miles, visiting the Channel Islands and journeying around the Breton peninsula. Learning to sail is the main aim, but it’s much more than just a sailing course. All the teamwork skills learned by living and working together – leadership, decision-making, personal communication, confrontation management, planning and managing – are transferable ashore.
An adventure that stays with you
“The transformations in self-confidence and self-knowledge are often remarkable. Quite often it can be a bit of a culture shock being in France, on a traditionally rigged boat and in charge of their own destinies,” says Will. “But at the same time, the kids are having a lot of fun on a memorable holiday. They make friends for life over a few weeks, and they go home knowing that they have achieved something to be proud of.”
Sailing since he was six years old, British-born Will taught yachting in Antibes, spent seven years coaching a high school J24 racing team at Cowes Week and taught at the Royal Yachting Association Sea Schools in the UK. He was also a teacher and expeditions master at Aiglon College, in Switzerland, famous for its ambitious expeditionary-learning programme. That extensive experience makes him uniquely qualified to lead QBE’s sailing holidays. He and his professional team teach the student crews to do everything (instruction is primarily in English, though the team also speak French). They take most of the decisions whilst ensuring safety at all times and giving the teenagers every opportunity to tackle the responsibilities entailed in sailing 46-foot yachts. The sailing school has been going for more than 30 years, and QBE’s team have enjoyed tremendous success in teaching, coaching and mentoring.
“Mixed crews work best for getting the most out of the experience,” says Will. “Every individual counts, everyone is a significant participant. If the crews don’t manage to work together, the boats do not sail well. And because we have identical boats, there is always a bit of competition and a desire to be out in front.”
The yachts are head-turning replicas of Alouette, a 19th-century French pilot cutter. The crew must take on board that these classic yachts require teamwork and effort to sail, and from that comes a sense of achievement. In fact, they’re the perfect boats to teach teens the skill and art of sailing – big enough to be very seaworthy but small enough for novice sailors to learn the ropes quickly.
A QBE expedition is a fantastically fun holiday: Crew members not only enjoy the thrill of coastal sailing, but they also get to observe millions of stars visible in clear night skies and discover a surprising variety of wildlife, including bottlenose dolphins, seals, and a vast number of seabirds. The boats routinely call at little-known ports that are steeped in history and regional culture. There are also visits to historic sites, museums, and cultural events. And everyone enjoys sampling the local taste sensations, including Brittany’s favourite – crêpes.
This is an exceptional adventure where those who sail these extraordinary boats create memories that last a lifetime.
Jessica Anderson’s son was so taken with his QBE experience that he’s coming back again this season – in both July and August! “It was more than an amazing adventure,” he enthuses, “it was a life-changing experience.”
Find out more about QBE’s holidays for teenagers in June, July, and August, and also for adults (on application), at www.elsleaders.com