Set sail for happiness

THERE is nothing, absolutely nothing, half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats,” says Ratty as he and Mole glide down river in The Wind in the Willows.

And it’s probably what Fremantle Sailing Club’s David Nelson and Tony Henderson thought when they set up the Sailing Support Program for people with mental health problems.

Just interacting with nature is therapy, Mr Nelson says, and people suffering from anxiety quickly calm down once on board.

• David Nelson and Thor Schoenhoff. Photo by Jenny D’Anger

“They get into the rhythm of being on the water…the roll, tack and gybe and the feel of the wind in their face and the water under the boat,” Mr Nelson says. “It’s akin to driving out in the bush away from everything,” fellow volunteer, and junior sailing coach, Thor Schoenhoff agrees.

With the blessing of the yacht club the program kicked off in April, “dealing with adults coming out of crisis and in recovery house,” Mr Nelson says.

“This is the only program in Perth offering this kind of thing.”

The 10.9 metre (36 foot) Airborne was donated by vice commodore Rob Thomas for community events and the club’s sailing training program, and the new program has the blessing of the club and Mr Thomas.

Mr Nelson and Mr Henderson quickly developed a working relationship with a number of community health providers, including Neami National.

“The program is designed to give participants a break from their lives and experience something new outside their comfort zone,” NN support worker Oliver Wearne says.

“Part of the feat of the adventure was how relaxed participants were made to feel.”

Mr Nelson and a band of volunteers give up to six clients an induction on the yacht, before heading down to Cockburn Sound.

“It’s a lot about team work, working things out together. It’s challenging but not in a competitive way,” Mr Schoenhoff says.

For more information or to book, email


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