Michael Duddridge has been the owner of the Dunkirk Little Ship called Windsong for three decades and has thoroughly enjoyed sailing her from his home in Cyprus.
He has agreed to make the sailing yacht available to Wellness Over Waves (WOW), a charitable marine foundation with operations in the UK and throughout the EU, with the understanding she will be sailed home to Littlehampton.
Michael said: “Advancing years have now dictated that I am no longer able to sail Windsong myself and I have decided to make her available to a recently-formed organisation that has been set up to provide sail training for disadvantaged young people.
“This non-profit making charity will operate sail rigged vessels in British waters as well as the Mediterranean and they are anxious to base Windsong in Littlehampton, where she was built 90 years ago in the yard of David Hillyard Ltd. There she would be installed as the flagship of their fleet.
“For almost 30 years, I have sailed Windsong from my home on the island of Cyprus around the eastern Mediterranean but this climate is not kindly to old wooden boats. Before she undertakes the long sea passage home, she must undergo a thorough, costly refit.”
An appeal has been launched in Europe and the UK to raise the money needed and it is hoped people in Littlehampton will support the project to bring Windsong home.
Michael met with WOW founder Fiona Nicholas for the signing ceremony on Tuesday, when the yacht was officially passed into the care of the foundation.
Fiona said: “It is a monumental step in both the life of Windsong and that of those who will benefit from her use within the foundation. The plan for windsong is that she is the UK flagship of our little fleet in Wellness Over Waves.
“SY Windsong is one of the only remaining sailing vessel that took part in Operation Dynamo during World War Two. Use has been granted to Wellness Over Waves with the intention to become the principle project vessel over the next 18 months for WOW programmes.
“Michael made this generous donation on the understanding that on the completion of a restoration by WOW, SY Windsong will be returned to the United Kingdom and will be berthed at Littlehampton, where she will be the WOW UK flagship.”
The foundation is dedicated to the wellbeing of individuals, to help them achieve levels of discipline to grow in confidence and self-worth.
It seeks to help individuals transition from orphanages or young offender institutions into the community, young adults with special needs who would benefit from experiential therapy, victims of domestic violence who need to regain their belief in themselves, and offenders or recovered drug addicts in search of a different quality of life and possibly a new vocation.
Fiona, an experienced shipwright, said: “I’ve spent my life on the sea in one way or the other and I truly believe it has the power to help heal any damaged soul. I’ve seen it. I’ve done it. I’ve experienced it. I simply want to pass it on to those who need it most.
“WOWs primary goal for 2022 is to fully restore SY Windsong and sail her back to her homeport of Littlehampton.
“It is a mammoth task but the good it will do and the difference it will make to those who encounter our mission will be well worth it. Windsong brought so many heroes home and now it’s our turn to find her some heroes of her own.
“She will be based in the historical berth, which will provide a physical point for people to visit and get a feel for a boat, and will have open visiting days.
“She will be used on a short leg basis for members of different boards to come and experience what it is the subjects of their charity will experience, so they can understand the value of the experience and know who will benefit the most from it.
“She will also visit festivals and other nautical events in UK waters. I don’t want her to go further afield due to her historical lineage and would not want to risk any serious damage.”
In 1940, Windsong was involved in the evacuation of the British Army from the beaches at Dunkirk during the Second World War and after returning to civilian life, she was involved in further adventures, until 1986, when Michael found her, in a rather neglected state, in a mud berth at Landshipping, on the River Cleddau, near Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire.
He sailed her from Wales to Holland, to a berth on the River Maas, near where he was living at the time, and for the next five years, sailed her around the Dutch coast and across the North Sea to take part in the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships’ annual rallies in various ports on the east coast of England.
The yacht will be sailed through the Mediterranean and Bay of Biscay next summer and after the final leg home, she will receive a hero’s welcome at Littlehampton Waterfront Festival in August 2022.
Donations can be made via the website www.wellnessoverwaves.com or at https://buy.stripe.com/bIY9E74T07nWbp6dQS
In the meantime, WOW has its maiden ship Pepa Primero, which is also undergoing her winter refit on the island of Madeira. She is a 60ft steel hull cutter rigged vessel.
When works have finished, she will sail the Atlantic into Portugal and slowly make her way across the Mediterranean, picking up and dropping off successful participants.
Pepa Primero will operate internationally alongside a smaller British-built WOW vessel for those who require a more intense experience and more one-to-one guidance.