At 22.86m, Donald Searle is the biggest of the boats in the RSP fleet. She was built in 1979 and this year we celebrate her 40th year in service. In 2019, she received a major refit which included new sails, masts and rigging.
In the late 1970s Donald Searle, co-founder of the MFI furniture business, tragically died in a gliding accident at the age of 52. The terms of his will dictated that money should be spent on setting up a Sail Training organisation. However, as part of their research into this, the Executors made contact with the RSP (the then-named London Sailing Project). In discussions with the RSP and other organisations, it soon become clear that there was a lot more to setting up and running a Sail Training organisation, and so the decision was made to pay for a boat to be built for an existing organisation. The RSP was the very fortunate beneficiary of that decision and we have been running Sail Training Voyages on Donald Searle ever since.
Donald Searle is fitted out with 20 berths, including separate cabins for the Skipper and for the rest of the Afterguard. As one of the oldest purpose built Sail Training vessels in the UK Sail Training fleet she is a well known and admired vessel in the fleet.
Donald Searle competed in the international Tall Ships Race each year between 1980 and 1991, and successfully completed the 1984 Transatlantic race. This racing role within the Project was then taken over by Rona II, and since then Donald Searle has concentrated on Sail Training Voyages nearer to home. While her crew are mainly young people between the ages of 14-25, Donald Searle has taken on a very special role of being the primary vessel for a programme of therapeutic voyages run by the Project. These therapeutic voyages include sailing for adults with diagnosed mental health issues, as well as adults with mild to severe learning disabilities on our ‘Gemini Sailing’ voyages. These therapeutic voyages have been running for more than 20 years and continue to be a very important element of our annual programmes. The Searle Family Trust continue to contribute to Donald Searle’s running maintenance and refit costs with a generous annual donation.
Rona is an Oyster 68, was built in 1991, and can take 23 people on board at a time. Rona has been one of the hardest working and most resilient of Oyster yachts in the world and a mainstay in the UK’s Sail Training Fleet. She has taken more than 7,200 young people sailing, has completed 21 International and 5 Transatlantic Tall Ships Campaigns. As our flagship, Rona II is central to the operation of the Rona Sailing Project, taking young people primarily from the age of 16 to sea on Sail Training Voyages.
Since she was launched, Rona has been the main racing vessel of the RSP. While all four vessels participate in the ASTO Small Ships Race every year, Rona II also participates in the International Tall Ships Race (TSR) annually. The TSR ports change from year to year and every decade or so Sail Training International organise a Transatlantic race. In 2017 Rona II participated in a Transatlantic Race from England to France, via Portugal, Bermuda, America and Canada. Rona II won the overall series in that year. Before she embarked on the Voyage she had a major refit which included new masts and rigging. She received the MCA/ASTO vessel of the year award in 2018 for ‘fulfilling both the Sail Training aspirations of ASTO and the seamanship and safety requirements of the MCA – the highest possible accolade in UK Sail Training.
Merrilyn is an Ocean 62, was launched September 2008, and can take 16 people in total on board. While all of the RSP vessels are suitable for all ages and abilities, the younger age group of Crew tend to be on Merrilyn. Merrilyn is also used for deaf and visually impaired Crew as she has special adaptations such as a hearing loop, a speaking compass and tactile features so that visually impaired people know where they are on the boat, and can distinguish between different lines.
Lady Shona is a Moody 35 bilge keel and is used almost exclusively for RSP Volunteer training. Volunteer training consists of both RYA courses and exams such as Day Skipper and Yachtmaster, but also RSP retraining relating to Skipper validation, revalidation, navigation and boat handling. Active sailing Volunteers who have demonstrated a commitment to the RSP can avail of the training resource in order to equip them to volunteer on the larger vessels and support promotion through the ranks of the Project.