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The next steps for Project Scaramouche: We speak to Jon Holt and the team

by Mark Jardine 11 Oct 04:00 PDT
Scaramouche team members (l-r) Jon, Samuel, Azat and Montel © Mark Jardine

Project Scaramouche has been inspiring, not just for the sailing world, but also in the wider community showing what can be done with a lot of hard work, leadership, courage and drive.

Jon Holt has been instrumental in this throughout, getting the project off the ground and ready to compete in the 2017 Rolex Fastnet Race.

"The Rolex Fastnet Race was a pivotal moment in the whole project as it was the most famous, and hardest, race we've done. It's an internationally renowned yacht race, so just being able to be on the start line showed we'd come a long way, as we had to qualify just to be there.

"To have the crew who not only did the qualifying races, but also wanted to compete for their places in the Fastnet, was brilliant. Their performance in the race itself was fantastic – the fact that we finished it and finished it so well, racing it properly, coming in the top half of the fleet, also knowing we could have finished much higher, was very pleasing."

It would have been so easy for Jon to have left it at that: showing that it can be done and then moving on. Instead Project Scaramouche is about the long-term, getting more and more inner-city students out on the water.

"It was always the goal to inspire other people to go sailing as I've always known what sailing can give young people. We've seen real-life examples, such as with Montel getting into the marine industry with Alex Thomson Racing, and we've now got other examples of students getting onto the racing circuit. We have a responsibility to show other schools what they can do. It was never really the plan to do what we're planning to do next, which is the ARC, but it always was to try and inspire other schools into the sport."

Azat has been involved with Project Scaramouche for over a year:
"One of my friends at school who had been sailing for a couple of years invited me to come along and try it on a Thursday evening, and I thought, 'Why not?'. We went out in a Bahia dinghy and then we went down to Southampton a couple of weeks later and that's when I had a proper experience out on the water with the waves hitting us, and I thought, 'I kind of like this: the adrenaline!'. Now I'm here, a year on, sailing Scaramouche!

"In the last twelve months I've done Antigua Sailing Week, the Etchells Nationals and Europeans, the RORC Cherbourg and St. Malo Races, and I'm still adding to that list! I'm now just looking forward to whenever the next sailing event happens, and keep adding to that list – that's my aim now."

Montel Fagan-Jordan was the first leader of Scaramouche, as team captain and main helmsman during the Rolex Fastnet Race 2017, a hugely proud moment in his life, firstly getting to the start line and then doing so well in this race.

"It was overwhelming really. When we crossed the finish line in the middle of the night, everyone was quite cold after so many days at sea but we were so happy and constantly smiling."

The project has opened doors within the marine industry for Montel as he describes:
"I have a placement with Alex Thomson Racing, with the new Hugo Boss yacht, and I'm learning so much through Alex Thomson and the team as I've been working on the boat for the past month – new skills on an advanced boat, maybe one of the most advanced boats in the world right now. I've learnt so much through Scaramouche and am developing new skills."

Montel is now at the cutting edge of sailing, working on the IMOCA 60s, seeing things which people won't see for a year until the new boat is launched.

"Being at the facility and working with the team - seeing them on social media is one thing, but it's the next step seeing the key details on what the boat has to offer and what they can do. It's full on and great to be a part of that whole experience."

Knowing that Project Scaramouche is continuing to bring new sailors into the sport is also a proud achievement for Montel, knowing that it wasn't just a one-off. He gave this advice to other schools who may want to try and set up a similar project:
"With Scaramouche, because it's a one-off yacht, it is hard to find parts and some parts need to be custom-made. If you can get hold of a mass-production boat, it would be so much easier. I'm just so pleased that what we've done has reached this level and inspired such a range of younger generations, especially from London and other inner-city schools. It's been amazing."

Samuel is one of the 'Class of 2018' on Scaramouche, so we asked him what persuaded him to get involved:
"I was looking at what I wanted to do in the future, having other opportunities instead of just football, basketball and other sports we have in London. We had sailing on offer, and I like swimming, so I thought maybe I'd like it and have a bit of fun. Once I realised that you could go racing, and that it's taken seriously, I'm a very competitive person so I thought 'Why not get involved?' and when I first started racing, which was the RORC Cowes to St. Malo Race, I really enjoyed it. Even though it was light winds, I enjoyed being on the helm, even when we were fighting the tide trying to go forwards, and I plan to continue taking my sailing forward in the future."

With there being a mix of more and less experienced sailors on board it was interesting to hear how the knowledge was passed on to the new recruits, which Samuel described:
"The experienced sailors weren't really giving me advice, more shadowing them and learning from it. On the helm we had Seun, who is our primary helm right now, and he's helped me learn things I wouldn't have learnt in school, such as concentration, which is key when you're watching the wind and your compass. I recently took up bow, which I learnt from Alex and Azat, and I've progressed well in a short amount of time, which I doubt I could have without them on board."

Samuel again has a full schedule of racing, having just completed the ASTO Small Ships Race, and is looking forward to the 2018 Rolex Fastnet Race and the ARC Transatlantic Race.

Jon describes what's lined up in the schedule for Scaramouche:
"We have a lot of younger crew who want to sail, and with the 16-17 year old age group we have a bigger number now of competent sailors and I believe the average ability of our crew is now higher. We have a pool of 15 or 16 sailors who are all credible Fastnet crew members, so we're going into 2019 in a stronger position than we were before.

"We'd love to better our position in the 2019 Rolex Fastnet Race, but we have to bear in mind that safety is our number one priority at all times. We'll do all the qualifying races with the new crew, do the Fastnet itself, which is two weeks earlier than it was in 2017, then leave Scaramouche in Plymouth for a few weeks, get it ready then sail down to Gran Canaria for the start of the ARC at the beginning of December, sailing the Atlantic to St. Lucia. Then, time depending, we're going to try and work our way up to the United States, where Scaramouche was originally from, and hopefully reach there by the end of the Christmas holidays."

Talking with the Scaramouche team, it was immediately noticeable how Montel raised his eyebrows when Jon mentioned the goal of beating the 2017 Rolex Fastnet Race result, and the friendly rivalry between the generations is great to see, which Azat explains:
"Having sailed with Montel on the Etchells and trying to beat his result would give me a sense of pride."

Jon's convinced that having sailors such as Montel giving their advice to the latest generation of Scaramouche crew has brought up the average ability massively and, deep-down, Montel would feel immense satisfaction if the 2019 team end up improving on his result.

"I've seen what people like Azat and Samuel have learnt in such a short time, so I'll be quite overwhelmed if they do go better next year," said Montel. "I'll still have my excuse that we blew two spinnakers and that'll be my excuse if they do beat us!"

To finance Project Scaramouche, the Etchells campaign, the girls' project, and help other schools get started, the team have launched a crowdfunding page, trying to raise enough money to make everything sustainable in the long-term. With the success they've had, and the way they've made sailing so much more accessible as a sport, this is without doubt a worthy recipient of any funds you can give them to help.

Help donate to the project via www.gofundme.com/scaramouche

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