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Sooke youth sailing program looks for safe harbour

Substance abuse program is at risk because there is no dock available for 85-foot schooner
Philip Ney may pull the plug on a sailing program that assists addicted youth if he can’t find dock space for the schooner central to Horizons Unbound. (Rick Stiebel - Sooke News Mirror)

A sailing program assisting youth with substance abuse issues in Sooke may be scuttled if sufficient dock space cannot be found to keep it afloat.

Philip Ney is president of Horizons Unbound Rehabilitation and Training Society, a non-profit charitable organization that assists youth dealing with substance abuse, family issues and other challenges.

“A small part of what we do is teaching youth how to sail,” said Ney, a retired psychiatrist and university professor with an extensive research background who has authored several books and numerous papers on human psychology. “They gain self-control, self-awareness and self-confidence. The program has helped hundreds of kids.”

The program has been around since 1972 in different locations, including Hong Kong, New Zealand, Vancouver, and Victoria.

Despite his efforts during the past 10 years, Ney has been unable to secure wharfage for the schooner Horizon Unbound at different locations along the Vancouver Island coast.

The schooner is anchored in Sooke Basin. The boat, which can accommodate 15 youths and a crew of five, is central to the program.

Ney has been trying to secure dock space for the schooner at Fishermen’s Wharf in Sooke since 2016.

He believes space should be made available for reasons he included in a 2016 letter to John Jenkins., board chair for the Sooke Harbour Authority.

Although Ney said the reasons for refusal at that time included the size of the schooner and that it was not a commercial fishing boat. However, he believes his request fits the Federal government’s guidelines for small craft harbours.

According to the Government of Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans policy statement, the local harbour authority’s mandate is to provide safe and accessible facilities for commercial fish harvesters and other harbour users. As well as other harbour users who contribute to the Canadian population while supporting coastal communities’ interests, there are also other harbour users.

In a recent letter to Jenkins, Ney noted that space has recently opened up with the departure of a vessel.

Jenkins said in an email that the board had several conversations with Ney about mooring his boat.

“We have told him from the beginning that we are unable to accommodate a ship of his size,” wrote Jenkins, noting the length of his ship is 85 feet, and the vessel’s draught is 12 feet. The draught is a “huge problem” because it restricts the space suitable for his ship.

“We are already at near maximum berthage. To accommodate his ship would require telling some of our current members that have moored here for years to move elsewhere.”

The program and the need for moorage were recently presented to Sooke council by Ney, seeking their assistance. “It’s out of our scope for us, and there’s nothing council can do,” said Sooke Mayor Maja Tait. “It involves working with the harbour authority or another entity that could provide the space.”

Ney, who’s been in the medical profession for 62 years, said something must be done due to the number of kids lost to drug overdoses.

He said his frustration had reached the point where he’s considering selling the schooner if he can’t find moorage.

Tara Munro, a counsellor and owner of Tara Munro Counselling in Sooke, said for many youths who have adverse experiences, nature and their connection to the land, water, and their community may be the only constant in their life.

“Building this connection for them will allow them always to have a place they feel safe, they know, they can predict, and they can navigate, a place they call home,” she said.

Munro said providing youth with opportunities for a safe adventure like sailing gives them natural highs. It can be a recipe for growth, helps them problem solve, and assess and re-assess risk with the framing and scaffolding of safe adults while building safety and trust in themselves and others.

Munro noted that discrimination against youth with mental health challenges begins early and increases over time, causing attitudes to become ingrained.

“When adolescents with mental illnesses don’t get help, they tend to self-medicate with drugs, alcohol or cigarettes, which can leads to substance abuse,” she said. “Some also develop behaviours that adversely affect their health, like eating disorders or social media addiction, to cope with a negative stigma. “

Research has found that exposure to nature has also been linked to protecting against various diseases, including depression, diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. Mental health stigma prevents adolescents from getting the help they need, and when they seek treatment, they feel shame for doing so.”

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