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Learn to sail

Experience adventure and freedom or simply mess around in boats. Jo Mattock finds out what sailing is all about

 

Perhaps it’s the freedom of the open ocean. Perhaps you read Swallows and Amazons at an impressionable age, or watch the racing of Cowes Week with envy. Or perhaps you simply picture yourself relaxing on the deck of a boat in the bay of a sunny Greek island without the noise of a motor. Whatever appeals to you about sailing, read on, because we’ll tell you how you can go about learning to sail as well as giving you a glimpse of some of the excellent sailing holidays that are out there, both in the UK and abroad.

How do I learn?
The Royal Yachting Association (RYA) has developed a series of sailing courses. These are run by training centres around the world and the qualifications you get are well recognised. If you learn to sail abroad or on holiday, make sure the centre is approved by the RYA – it will make it easy to continue your training back home or elsewhere.

The RYA has separate courses for learning to sail yachts and dinghies. Dinghies are probably the easiest way to learn to sail – they’re small boats, easy to handle and light to launch. You can join a club, explore a local stretch of water or learn how to race. Beginner’s courses are run separately for adults and for youngsters – they teach the same skills just at slightly different paces. You learn how to launch and rig the boat, how to sail in all directions and how to recover a capsized boat.

And if I need a bigger boat?
The RYA’s Start Yachting course gives you a chance to test out your sea legs over two days, but the course that will literally teach you the ropes and transform you from a landlubber to a salty sea dog is the Competent Crew course. Over five days you learn how to steer the boat, handle the sails, row a dinghy, keep a lookout and generally help out the skipper on board. You can complete this course over five straight days, on a holiday in the UK or abroad for example, or over three weekends, or three days plus a weekend – it’s quite flexible. There’s no minimum age for doing this course, so you can take the kids too and learn as a family.

If you enjoy sailing and aspire to become a skipper yourself, the RYA’s Day Skipper course teaches you all you need to know to tackle short journeys. It takes five days and you need experience of navigation and helmsmanship.

What does a course involve?
Grant James, 24, recently took the RYA’s Competent Crew course with Sunsail. ‘Living in Portsmouth all my life, I’d see people sailing all the time and I wanted to do it myself,’ he says. ‘When I was 11 years old I went on a school trip and we had the chance to sail dinghies – there were three of us in the boat and I really enjoyed it.’ 

The five-day Competent Crew course took place in the Solent. Grant says the weather was cold and the sea was rough, but he had a good time none the less. ‘It would have been great to do the course in warm weather, but you learn a lot more in difficult conditions,’ he says.

He learned sailing terms, how the boat is rigged, how to handle the sails, rope work and basic safety. As Grant, the skipper and crew were all living on board for the week, there was also a fair share of cleaning and cooking to be done. ‘It basically got me used to being on board a boat and being an able crew member,’ he says.

‘The skipper, Keith, was approachable and you could ask him anything. Although you get told things several times, when it’s all new it’s easy to forget how to do certain tasks. He made it easy to ask questions when you had them.

‘I was on my own, but I met two other guys on the boat and we got on really well. They were likeminded and it was quite a sociable few days, having a beer together in the evening and talking about our day on the boat. Sailing encourages team building, so you’re going to be bonding – it’s a good way ofmeeting people.’

Grant loved the course, and learned a lot in tough conditions, but there was a downside. ‘There was one occasion when it was quite choppy and really cold as well. I took a break down below, but began to feel seasick. I had to come back outside into the fresh air, which did the trick.’

Now Grant is enjoying sailing around Portsmouth and the Solent, and he has done the theory for RYA’s Day Skipper course. He hopes to do the practical part of the course soon and get away on a sailing holiday later this year.

 

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