When Barking College offered courses in yachting navigation for the blind and partially-sighted using the latest computer technology, the idea was dismissed by many as nonsense, writes Ian Nash.
Nine months on, however, the college has not only proved the worth of the courses, it has also helped a team of five through three crucial competitions to qualify for this year's Fastnet race from Southampton to Ireland. Their yacht is aptly called Visual Challenge.
Ted Parker, the principal, is only too well aware that critics of new-style franchised courses will object that money was unnecessarily spent. The college provided the Pounds 5,000 sponsorship needed for the race. And the Hamble School of Yachting could have looked elsewhere for training cash.
"But this is a good story about franchising," he insists. It was about more than prestige, publicity and rising rolls. "It is drawing on and exploiting unique expertise."
Mike Rowton, the staff member in charge of the course, is a yachtsman. His deputy Prue Farrington is a yachting master instructor. They run regular Royal Yachting Association courses at the college. "When the new funding mechanism for colleges came in, we saw real opportunities," said Mike. "Hamble was also keen to get sponsorship for people with disabilities."
David Wright, director of Hamble, is delighted as his students have already picked up prizes along the route to qualifying for the Fastnet. "Having the performance of our students monitored by the college helps us maintain our standards and increase the quality."