Come Sail Away: How Sea Sanctuary Is Helping People With Mental Illness

Thanks to a charity called Sea Sanctuary, men and women suffering from mental health problems can stay on a 85-foot vintage sailing vessel for four days at a time. The charity’s Sail into Life course, which has helped around 650 people in the six years it has been running, enables people to receive one-on-one and group therapy while learning about sailing. It’s rooted on the belief that working with one’s hands in the outdoors and meeting new people can work wonders.

“A lot of people who come to us have lost their sense of purpose,” says Joe Sabien, who founded Sea Sanctuary back in 2006 after becoming disillusioned with his work in mental health, in an interview with the Telegraph. “Without that you’re floundering, you’re out there on your life raft with no idea what to do. This is an opportunity to reboot and build resilience.”

For Joe, a 47-year-old father-of-two who himself has suffered mental health issues, it is the setting that makes this unique form of therapy so successful. “There is something innately therapeutic about being at sea,” he says. “Here you’ve got the smell of the wood and the creaking, the wind and the water. The whole package is calming.”

Sue Gaunt agrees. She first came onto the boat back in 2013 and found the experience helped to pull her out of a severe depression. “I started to feel better immediately, which I hadn’t anticipated,” says Sue, 62. who lives in the Tamar Valley.

Sue believes it was the physicality of the work on board Grace which helped to bring her out of a black hole.

“When I was ill I just wanted to stay indoors at home – I had no energy or motivation to do anything, so I wasn’t getting any exercise which is the worst thing for depression. On the boat you had to just get on with it. I was able to smile and join in and laugh at things, and to be able to do that again was very therapeutic.”

For Adrian Smith, finding Sea Sanctuary was a lifeline. After an accident left him with chronic pain, he was forced to give up a 30-year career as a math teacher. He was quickly diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety. “I think — without wishing to be melodramatic — suicide was an option,” says Adrian, 58. “I’m not saying it definitely would have happened, but it was certainly something that was going through my mind. I felt I was no use to anybody, I felt my family would be better off without me. I couldn’t see a way out.

“My doctor happened to have worked at Sea Sanctuary and recommended it to me. By then I’d stopped communicating with people; I didn’t want to go out.

“Then I came on Grace for four days last summer and spent time with new people. Being here makes you think life is worth living. The sea is so calming, the setting is so important.”


Adam Wahlberg

Founder of Think Piece Publishing