Britain’s Rolex Fastnet race is an ambitious notch in any sailor’s belt, so when Lottie Harland decided to put together a team of nine autistic sailors, it was a major undertaking. Harland is the founder of Ausome, a charity that uses sailing to promote personal and social growth in people on the autism spectrum. After difficulties connecting with her peers as a child, sailing taught Harland confidence, independence and social skills.
“I want to give other people that experience,” she says, pointing out that traditional sailing courses are inaccessible to many people on the spectrum, especially for non-verbal sailors trying to communicate onboard.
“Ausome was founded to bridge this gap in services for those autistic people looking to experience sailing for the first time or to further their skills.”
Harland, a Royal YachtingAssociation (RYA) Offshore Yachtmaster, will be skippering Ausome-Lyra of London, a Swan 431.
The crew is made up of sailors of varying experience, aiming to give opportunities to a diverse group of people. Team member Seth Kneller says, “I wanted to sail for a long time, but never had the opportunities to learn. My autism makes it difficult to make the social connections that would help most people to get involved in the sport.”
For Kneller’s crewmate, Jack Britton, it’s also about having something to prove. “I want to try all my abilities to show people what I’m made of,” he says.
Harland hopes the experience will be impactful beyond the race itself, improving confidence when learning new skills, being a part of a team, making new friends and increasing self-reliance.
The biennial race begins off Cowes, England, August 3. This year organizers expect over 300 boats and 3,000 sailors on the starting line. To learn more about Ausome and their Fastnet Campaign, visit ausome.org.uk.