A Donegal member of Irish Girl Guides had the experience of a lifetime recently when she sailed the seven seas on the tall ship the Pelican of London.

Gráinne McElchar (16), a member of Convoy Senior Branch, described the 10-day return trip from Dublin to Cork as “an extraordinary experience”.

“They were quite possibly the best and most memorable days of my life,” she said. “There was never a dull moment on board and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.”

She said she was both “terrified and excited” when she arrived at Dublin Port to board the ship but was relieved to discover that three other members of Irish Girl Guides were taking part too.

“We soon got to know the other trainees and, by the second day, it felt as if I had known some of these people for my whole life,” she said.

Highpoints of Gráinne’s voyage included seeing dolphins, stunning sunrises and sunsets and gazing at the stars. Along the way, she gained numerous new skills and enjoyed unforgettable experiences.

Pictured aboard the Pelican of London before setting sail from Dublin Port were (from left): Amy Gorman, Eimear O Sullivan, Grainne McElchar and Tarah Fleming.

Sailing skills

“The second day was also when we started to learn about sailing a ship. Most of the learning was done on our watches. We bonded with the others on our watch and, although some watch times were more desirable than others, there was never an unenjoyable watch.

“We learned lots of new skills while on board, one of which was climbing the rigging. I didn’t do this as much as some others as it was entirely voluntary. However, I did try it a few times as I was trying to push myself to do new things.

“Another skill I learned and loved was helming. While we were on watch, we all got to take turns steering the ship by changing the rudder angle. One of the biggest issues with this was trying not to over-steer. We were always supervised by a member of the crew who were all very helpful and understanding.”

The Pelican of London Tall Ship

New and scary things

Pushing herself to try “new and scary things” included swimming off the boat, given that Gráinne is not an accomplished swimmer. “The crew helped me out by giving me a buoyancy aid,” she said.

“Many of the other trainees were more adventurous and jumped from the bikini deck, a rope or the bowsprit but I decided to start small and just jumped from the rail. This worked well for me the first time but, the second time, my swimming suit got caught on a pin and ripped! Luckily not many people saw this and, those who did, just wanted to help. At the time I was a little embarrassed but I can now see the funny side!”

A sing-song at the end of the trip also provided some great memories.

‘Go again in a heartbeat’

“I loved every minute of the trip and would recommend it to anyone and everyone,” said Gráinne.

“If I could go back and change anything I would probably just have packed more warm clothes but, other than that, I wouldn’t change a thing and, if given the chance, I would go again in a heartbeat. It was a truly unforgettable experience.”

Irish Girl Guides welcomes new members from age 5-30 and volunteer adult leaders from age 18+. For further information see www.irishgirlguides.ie