Sue & Malcolm’s fundraising sailing challenge

DanceSyndrome was founded in 2009 by Jen Blackwell, who happens to have Down’s syndrome, because she found it difficult to find opportunities in community dance due to her disability. Her parents Sue and Malcolm Blackwell wanted their daughter to be able to follow her dreams of a career in dance, so together they started the charity to support Jen and others like her who might be excluded from mainstream dance.

In the 12 years since DanceSyndrome was formed, the organisation has gone from strength to strength. It is a small charity with a big impact, constantly evolving and continuing in a whole new way through the pandemic.

Sue and Malcolm are active members of #TeamDS. Sue holds the position of Chair of the Board of Trustees and Malcolm’s business experience and management skills have been vital to the survival of the charity, particularly in recent months. Their dedication is unwavering and now they have gone above and beyond and committed to an exciting charity challenge to help to raise funds for our work.

They have decided to take on a serious sailing challenge of sailing the full perimeter of the UK coast – without stopping! We want to keep you all up to date with their progress, so will be adding updates on this page, but you can also read all about it on their Just Giving page.

Sunday 27th June:

This is amazing! Thank you so much to everyone for getting donations off to a flying start.

Today’s the day! We’re dressed to impress and plan to depart Whitehaven around 1330 heading north, so clockwise round the UK. The excitement is building as we do final preparations for departure – more sunscreen would be a good idea but then if we’re wearing thermals for weeks that hardly seems so important. However, more butter for more flapjack is seriously important!

Weather watching will become our main sport along with mini-celebrations as we pass serious headlands, the first 2 being Mull of Galloway and Mull of Kintyre.

More soon S/Y Sukama

Monday 28th June:

It’s tough out here. Cheers! Going nowhere fast but sublime beauty in every direction. We’re tacking which is sheer craziness. We’d expected a N or NE wind. Instead we have a westerly which makes going west remarkably hard work with many extra miles required. All part of the rich tapestry of life!

Tuesday 29th June:

Words are failing me for the generosity that people are showing through their donations, friends, family, and total strangers too! Thank you one and all. It’s absolutely incredible and wonderful. I’d never thought before of shining a light on people with a learning disability and DanceSyndrome in particular through sailing adventures, but how wonderful that this is happening. Here is the update from today:

First headland down. We’ve conquered Mull of Galloway! As many people do all the time, but if they have any sense possibly not at night in a F5 on the nose! Seriously lumpy, bouncy, wetting, and good fun! 3 hours before needing to be at Mull of Kintyre with 25 miles to go we accepted the inevitable (every pilot said it wasn’t possible but thought we’d try anyway) we made the decision to go and spend a peaceful calm night on Arran instead – a prudent passage pause rather than a stop you understand! Wonderful, beautiful. Need I say more. And champagne sailing all the way. It’s at times like these I have to pinch myself to check I’m really alive.

Instead of chilling with a glass of wine like sensible people (it just got delayed) we spent hours deliberating over charts, pilots, grib files, forecasts searching for the best option to achieve the Outer Hebrides. It’s harder than you might think. Scary comments like the most severe overfalls in the UK make you dig deep into every ounce of information you can find. Seems that it’s definitely not a passage for the faint hearted but armed with the forecast this morning which is markedly more encouraging and a determined mindset we’re off!

Expecting a good soaking round Mull of Kintyre though. Forecasting a F6.

More soon S/Y Sukama

Wednesday June 30th

A sluggish lumpy sort of day. Grey from horizon to horizon. The sea felt and appeared leaden, even the wind gave up by mid morning. But before that, at 4am in the morning to be precise, we’d achieved our 3rd tidal gate in 3 days! Couldn’t help but feel just a little smug!

After spending the rest of the day hunkered down below decks keeping warm, having bit of a cook in, debating weather and routing – of course – around 6pm the skies began to lighten, the sun came out, the sea sparkled and dolphins danced on the bow wave. A truly memorable end to a very grey day.

See photo – Dolphins near Tiree

Dolphins near Tiree

Thursday July 1st

Heading north up The Sea of Hebrides, further north in the UK than we’ve ever been before. We’ve entered the land of the midnight sun. Wow!!!! I turned the nav lights off at 4am and by 5am I needed sun glasses! This is priceless. 3.30am – 4.30am left me speechless as each next vista unfolded, each more stunning that the last. As we ghosted along with 5 knots of wind making 2 knots of speed I found myself with the best seat in the house. Incredible majesty all around as the Isle of Skye was silhouetted against the sun which refuses to set. Total tranquillity, restorative for both body and mind.

See photo – Sun setting over Outer Hebrides

Sun setting over Outer Hebrides

So many moments I want to bottle, save them forever, and share with everyone I love. That is everyone who believes in a fair equitable civil society, the society in which I choose to live. One such society is the dancing family DanceSyndrome!

Heading up to Cape Wrath. Expect to arrive at midnight.

Cape Wrath

Saturday July 3rd July

Strange how one fog bank looks very much like another fog bank! But at least we know where we are and where we’re headed thanks to techy toys. We arrived at Cape Wrath – the clue is in the name – at the top of the Minch at 2200 yesterday with our plan and the aid of the iron horse – there’s really not a lot of sailing to be done with 1 knot of wind.
Today dawned grey with the sun trying manfully to burn off the cloud, but failing miserably. So for the most part we’ve been down below doing those chores one probably doesn’t choose to do but must embrace – cooking and cleaning spiced up with weather monitoring/checking/updating/downloading/considering, an all consuming sport for some! And a bit of time to recuperate.

After romping along all day at 8/9 knots in the murky gloom I’m glad we’ve detuned the rig for the nighttime, partly because it’s less frenetic, but also because we‘ll otherwise arrive way too early for the tide, definitely not a Sue and Malcolm trait! We have a reputation to live up to!

We’re not planning on stopping with just 12 hour forecasts here because the weather changes so rapidly, but look at the names of the places to greet you- Toolie, The Noup, Holm of Skaw, but best of all is the northernmost tip, Muckle Flugga! Happily we’re both still glad we made the decision to head to Shetland. You really can’t get further north in the UK!

Sunday July 4th July

WE DID IT!!! Tip of Shetland. Northernmost point of the UK. Muckle Flugga!

Passing Muckle Flugga- the most Northerly tip of the Shetland Islands and UK.

Will now turn south!!

Monday 5th July

How do you follow Muckle Flugga? With wall to wall fog it seems. Today was exactly that day after our 1 minute of glorious sunrise.

Heading south now towards Aberdeen on our Non-Stop Charity Sail around UK to raise support for DanceSyndrome.

Latest position at 19:00 on 5th July after eight and a half days sailing.

Tuesday 6th July

As for never knowing what’s around the corner, Malcolm awoke at 0530, checked the battery read out and declared we have a problem. The batteries weren’t charging and we were motoring. In fact almost the reverse. They were losing charge at a worrying rate.

But we were running for cover from the strong winds in the last forecast albeit that at that time there was no wind so motoring was the only option.


Ignore it, but that came with the risk of fire – normally they spin at c. 4000 revs/min but rated for up to 8000 revs/min.
Disable the 2nd alternator by taking the fan belt off and charge the batteries using the generator, or the engine alternator remembering to switch the charger on and off manually.
Or do the job properly. Malcolm being Malcolm we carry a spare alternator – his Boy Scout mentality stood us in good stead again!

During the next frenetic hour 0545 – 0645, whilst drifting 14 miles offshore with a storm approaching and no wind, we advised the coast guard we had a mechanical problem, disconnected and removed the defunct alternator and fan belt, installed the new alternator and fan belt and checked that all was working. Or rather he did. I proffered spanners and sockets as required, and held my breath trying to be helpful, mor at least not unhelpful! It worked!! We advised the coast guard that all was well and allowed ourselves a huge sigh of relief. Time to put the kettle on. Phew!!

Wednesday 7th July

The past few days have thrown everything at us. Fog, sun, strong winds, no wind, kind winds, torrential rain, thunder and lightning when we put our electronics in the oven as sailors are prone to do, but for our pains we were treated to a complete and beautiful rainbow. We were gearing up for the approaching storm on Tuesday but our strategising was almost too perfect. It meant that we avoided the F8/9 winds which passed safely south and east of us but we were left with the legacy of the seas. Rounding the southern tip of the Firth of Forth was infinitely more ‘interesting’ than we’d anticipated with conditions comparable to crossing the Atlantic in a diminutive form, and a tidal race for added spice around St Abbs Head.

Thursday 8th & Friday 9th July

No wind days following the weather system which sucked up all the wind leaving a vacuum behind. So precious little sailing to be done. Instead we motored incessantly, hours against a slug tide north of East Anglia, making it just in time to a passage anchorage off Cromer to wait for the tide and join DanceSyndrome for their live performance which was yet another incredible feather in their cap. We spoke to a euphoric Jen and Donna following it who along with the whole DanceSyndrome team yet again had us captivated by their professionalism.

But what a performance to get the anchor to hold. The ‘sand’ was more like concrete and took 3 attempts to achieve after having ferry glided through the forest of fishing pots specifically designed to finish off props and rudders of the unwary.

On the 9th, a 4.30am start gifted us an amazing sunrise and the tide we needed to barrel around the inland route of East Anglia at up to 9 knots, a speed generally unheard of but we were glad of flat water, no overfalls, and seals for company. We found ourselves celebrating achieving the most eastern point of the UK with a cup of coffee (it was a little early for the scotch) and chocolate at 9.30 in the morning.

But now we’re snookered. Made 2 nautical miles in 2 hours. Still no wind. And nothing in the forecast for the next few days either. So with a heavy heart, and very frustratedly, we’ve come into the Stour, dropped the hook, and will wait for the wind.

We checked updated forecasts again late in the day. Still no change. We’re likely to be here for a while.

Saturday 10th July

There may be no wind but every cloud has a silver lining. We’ve caught up on some sleep, and today for the first time for years and years, I’ve been close enough to land to be able to watch the women’s finals of Wimbledon! With every likelihood that we’ll be here tomorrow too we’ll be able to see the men’s finals and who knows, maybe even the football too!

After 13 days of voyaging we’ve just dined like royalty – pot roasted bacon with carrots and courgettes followed by homemade lemon and lime cheesecake. There are real benefits to a big fridge and freezing capability too when on long passages 🙂

Tuesday 13th July

Eventually! We escaped the Stour in the small hours, but how wonderful the weather chose Wimbledon finals weekend to give us the challenge of no wind to sail by. That was a very definite bonus for some of us whilst others busied themselves with servicing toilets!

So we left with an encouraging forecast – going NE Force 3 – 5. We romped across the Thames estuary making 8 knots at times before slowing to a crawl round North Foreland and past Dover at 6pm which was busier than I’ve ever seen it. With only 2 hours of fair tide left around Dungeness we finally put the engine on with the NE behind us now clocking in at 5 knots – totally useless when it comes to moving a yacht of 20 tonnes. Yet again thwarted by lack of wind but what an amazingly beautiful sunset over Rye by way of compensation. We even considered feeling our way in at 9pm to layover and wait for wind but decided instead to continue on into the black of the night having had too much by way of waiting already. There was a particularly special slither of a crescent moon, but nothing like enough to light our way. That’s the promise in store for next week.

After 13 days of voyaging we’ve just dined like royalty – pot roasted bacon with carrots and courgettes followed by homemade lemon and lime cheesecake. There are real benefits to a big fridge and freezing capability too when on long passages 🙂

14th/15th July

Wednesday was an interesting, challenging, annoying, frustrating day as we tried and tried to sail towards the Isle of Wight, but ending with joined up thinking heading out into the Channel bound towards Guernsey and the Channel Islands! Now passaging along the south coast of the UK all of a sudden is turning into fun again. By 8pm Thursday we’d had a great sail across with wind to fill our sails topping out a t 9.7kts SOG (speed over the ground). We arrived 6 hours too early for the Alderney Race so with time to kill we staunched the tilde, ran the Race at its most benign and marvelled at the beauty of yet another glorious sunset, but this time over one of our most favourite of haunts in the world. And one we had absolutely no intention of encompassing within the scope of this sailing campaign. What an incredible bonus. Thank you Sark. And thanks to the Sark authorities for allowing us a passage layover whist yet again we wait for the wind to sail by.

After 13 days of voyaging we’ve just dined like royalty – pot roasted bacon with carrots and courgettes followed by homemade lemon and lime cheesecake. There are real benefits to a big fridge and freezing capability too when on long passages 🙂

Friday 16th July

What a treat! Paradise! Anchored off Derrible Bay, Sark, gently rocking as the tide laps the hull, bathed in sunshine, and no alarms to have us up for the next watch. In fact, I hardly like to share, but we slept in until 11am, a time when most mortals have already done half a days work! A wonderful brunch with Swiss shirred eggs, crispy breakfast rolls and melon with prosciutto all washed down with lashings of tea and fresh orange juice set us up for the day! Rest and relaxation.

Picture: Derrible Bay, Sark at 6pm Friday July 16th 2021. Need to pinch myself to make sure I’m not hallucinating!

If you’re inspired by Sue & Malcolm’s dedication to their fundraising sailing challenge, you can support them via Just Giving: or you can donate to DanceSyndrome directly using the form below:

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