Our History

The person who had the idea of Testwood Lakes Sailability was Eric Blyth. In the late 1990s he saw Testwood Lakes as an ideal environment for such an activity. Once the Scouts, who were using the lake for sailing, succeeded in constructing the new Scout HQ, Eric could start putting his plan into action. The charity was formed in June 2013 which then worked to raise the funds to construct the pontoon which was required to operate. 

The required funds were raised by a combination of a Lottery Grant from Sport England, a grant from New Forest District Council, and donations from Barker Mill, from The Wallace Foundation, and from New Forest Sailability. This enabled TLS to purchase a Bridge and Pontoon from Walcon which was installed in August 2016.

Eric and Geoff Holt on the opening of the Pontoon

The pontoon was officially opened by Geoff Holt MBE, DL, and Eric Blyth on the 1st September 2016. Together with the Pontoon TLS had also purchased the necessary hosts and slings to enable wheelchair users to access the dinghies. The first user of the facility was Eric who was hoisted by Spike into a dinghy and went for the sail he had imagined nearly 20 years before.

Eric being hoisted into dinghy

Eric being hoisted into dinghy

TLS first sail by Eric Blyth

First sail of TLS by Eric Blyth

TLS operated on a small scale until the end of October 2016 and in total made 65 sails using the two Hansa Access 303 Dinghies that were donated by New Forest District Sailability. 

Sailing started again the April of 2017, and in June of that year the operation expande to sail on a Monday. This was earlier than was planned because a number of possible volunteers were available on a Monday. TLS has continued to sail on a Monday and Thursday but after the pandemic it was decided to not sail on a Bank Holiday due to the popularity of the lake on these days.

The number of volunteers increased due to advertising at events in Totton such as the Totton Fun Day and the Totton and Eling Carnival. We have publicity days at the local supermarkets, Morrisons, ASDA in Totton and Sainsbury’s in Shirley. We also advertise on the Wessex Community First Volunteer Website which has gained us a number of volunteers. As a result of these activities TLS has now nearly 50 volunteers who give their time to provide dinghy sailing.  

With assistance from the New Forest and Waterside Rotary Clubs, TLS purchased a new Hansa Access 303 dinghy and later with funds from Geoff Clark, TLS purchased another 303 this time with electric controls to aid the sailor if required. TLS now has 5 double 303 dinghies and 1 single 303 which are all regularly used. 

Since 2016 the sailing numbers shown, have grown steadily except for 2020 & 21 due to the pandemic. 

Total Sails by Year

Young sailors receiving their RYA Bronze Award Certificate

People who sail with TLS come from a number of backgrounds, some have sailed all their lives and come to TLS because their circumstances have changed and they need to use our dinghies which are very accessible, some have never sailed before and try it for the first time and come back for more. Many are happy to be taken out for a sail but there are those who are keen to learn to sail and eventually go solo. There has  been one person who sailed with TLS as a customer and then became a volunteer skipper. The important outcome for all is that they all enjoy it and the smiles on their faces make it worthwhile for the volunteers.

Many of our sailors come with groups like Headway, Hexagon, Karibu and Way Ahead. They are day centres that provide daycare and activities for people with different disabilities. We also have several schools such as Great Oaks School that send pupils sailing with us. TLS also has a significant number of individual sailors, some who have sailed all their lives and many are  very new to sailing. TLS also provide sailing for local Young Carer organisations which are sponsored by the Southampton Magna Rotary Club

As mentioned above some have learnt to sail and go solo while others learn some aspects of sailing and are able to sail under supervision. TLS have a free program booklet supplied by the RYA that the sailors can progress as far as they are able. This program starts with a Basic award and then progressive through Bronze, Sliver, Gold and finally Platinum.  A number of the sailors have learnt to sail solo with TLS by progressing through this program. The skippers will provide the sailor with the level of instruction depending on the sailor’s needs and abilities. 

One of  TLS’ dinghies taking part in a race in Southampton Water

TLS has attended some local sailing club Regattas to publicise what we do. These events are very useful for the charity as they give us the opportunity to talk to sailors who may be interested in volunteering. At one of these Regattas on Southampton Water one of our dinghies competed in a race . 

Looking forward to the future, TLS would like to grow the number of sails a little more to say 1500 per year. However, Eric had no wish to see TLS get too large and impersonal, his main aim was for all the Sailors and the Volunteers to have fun and enjoy their time on the water. For this reason, TLS will always be reliant on some level of donation, so we will continue to seek support from the local community by working with different organisations and doing publicity and collections at local events and supermarkets.