Why not – learn to sail?

Photo courtesy of RYA

Experience the adventure and freedom of sailing

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. It’s what many sailors work towards.

Is it expensive?
Sailing is often perceived as an expensive sport but in reality it doesn’t have to be. You can buy a small dinghy second hand and get on the water for as little as £300 and get kitted out with a wetsuit and buoyancy aid for as little as £80.

Like any sport it costs a lot to compete at the very top but families can join a sailing club for as little as £150 a year and gain access for free or for a small cost to club boats and kit. Or there are plenty of opportunities to be crew on other people’s boats whether they are dinghies or bigger boats.’

A Competent Crew course with Sunsail Sailing School costs £479. Like skiing and scuba diving, sailing is sometimes seen as a luxury or exclusive activity. But there’s no reason why you can’t do it on a budget.

Where can I go?
There are plenty of places to sail in the UK. The Solent has some of the best sailing in southern England, while Oban and the west coast of Scotland is a Mecca for sailors further north. Sailing can take you to some spectacular places around the world as well. For more information on sailing courses or to find clubs and training centres in your area, go to www.rya.org.uk



There are many places in the Mediterranean where you can sail, but three countries particularly lend themselves to learning: Greece, Turkey and Croatia.

The Greek islands have been popular as a sailing destination for many years, which means there are many places to moor up overnight, where you can resupply the boat and refresh yourselves with a trip to a Taverna. During the day, you will hop between islands and visit ancient sites, picturesque fishing villages and secluded anchorages in beautiful bays.

In Turkey, the sea is a little more open, but it is still quite calm and suitable for beginners. The weather can be hot in the summer, so Turkey is perfect for sun worshippers who want to top up a tan on board the boat. During the day, explore crystal-clear seas and rocky bays, then moor up in a colourful local town at night for dinner.

Croatia has become increasingly popular among sailors in recent years. Its sheltered archipelagos have the perfect conditions for learning to sail and the weather in summer is reliably warm without being scorching hot. Take in historic ports such as Dubrovnik and modern marinas or visit uninhabited islands, coves and beaches.

A surprisingly good value destination for sailing – and perfect for beginners. Thailand may be a long-haul flight away, but a sailing holiday there won’t cost too much more than going to the Mediterranean.

There are several places in Thailand that have all the necessary facilities for yachting, but Phuket is recommended for those who want to learn to sail. Phuket is easy to get to, has several sailing schools and many boats to choose from. Its picturesque beaches, bays and limestone stacks have featured in many movies.

For more experienced sailors, Koh Chang is quiet with fewer tourists. Explore uninhabited islands and fishing villages built on stilts – this is a real step off the tourist trail. Sailing is also good in Koh Samui, where you can combine it with scuba diving – the coral reefs are some of the best in the area.

The steady winds and protected waters of the British Virgin Islands (BVI) make perfect conditions for learning to sail. Deep water and easy navigation mean BVI is suitable for all levels of sailor. Spend the day exploring the coral seas and secluded bays of more than 50 islands and cays then enjoy some Caribbean nightlife in the evening.

The advantage of Caribbean for sailing is that you can escape the British winter – sailing is possible all year round, but the best time to go is November to July.

Australia and New Zealand
Sailing is an excellent way to explore the Whitsunday Islands in Australia. This archipelago of 74 islands sits right in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef. Protected by the outer reef, the waters around the Whitsundays are relatively still and the winds are reliable, giving perfect conditions for training. The scenery is magnificent, with turquoise waters, white sandy beaches and incredible wildlife – dolphins play at your bow, colourful tropical fish flit around the reefs below you and there’s even the possibility of a whale surfacing from the deep right by your boat. You can sail here year round, but the recommended time to come is during the Australian winter, between April and October, when the heat is less fierce.

Sailing is incredibly popular in New Zealand too, so you can expect great facilities and plenty of enthusiasm from the locals. Auckland, built around an impressive natural harbour, is a haven for sailors. It’s the starting point for exploring the Hauraki Gulf, which has 76 islands and more than 200 anchorages. Further north, The Bay of Islands has great conditions for learning to sail – distances between islands are short and easy to navigate. The climate is also slightly warmer here – the best of the weather in New Zealand is the summer between November and April.

Sailing holidays explained
There are many ways to go about a sailing holiday. You can just hire the boat, you can get a captain to take charge for the whole week or you can join a group of other like-minded holiday makers. We explain the jargon:

Bareboat charter – you hire just the boat. There’s no skipper and no crew. You need to have enough experience, but this option gives you total freedom and flexibility.

Skippered charter – a captain joins you onboard your boat for your entire holiday, leaving you free to relax without the stress of navigation or parking the boat. It’s the perfect option for beginners. Some skippered charters include teaching you to sail.

Flotilla – a small group of yachts that sail together. A lead boat is on had to help if there are any problems and organises places for you all to moor at night. It’s also a very sociable way to sail.

Single berth – some companies such as One Stop Sailing offer holidays for individual travellers. You join a skippered boat, dedicated to cruising or where you can learn to sail along with other holiday makers.

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