Lately you’ll have read a lot on this blog about elite racers blasting across the ocean in races such as the Volvo Ocean Race or around the buoys in the America’s Cup. A lot won’t even aspire to sail on one – they just like sailing for sailing’s sake.
In general there are two types of sailor – the cruiser and the racer. There are courses to suit both disciplines, and this piece will look at how to learn to master either, or both disciplines.
A lot of people are drawn to the idea of sailing as a restful activity. Cruising up the Mediterranean or Caribbean with a G&T in hand and watching the world go by at a gentle pace.
Yes, you get a thrill when there’s quite a bit of wind, but your interest is in getting to your destination in one piece, perhaps anchoring in a secluded bay for lunch on the way.
Most yachting courses are about getting from A-B safely and sensibly. You just need to look up the RYA or ASA syllabi to see that they teach navigation, boat handling and meteorology so you can potter down the coast for lunch at a favoured pub, or perhaps cross the Channel to load up on wine for the coming year.
For your day sail up Falmouth Harbour to the Pandora Inn (a favoured pub of mine since it has a dock) you’d need to pass the RYA Day Skipper course so you can sail the boat safely. If you plan on a couple of days afloat to load the bilges with booze in France, Spain or Portugal, then you should have a minimum of an RYA Coastal Skipper qualification.
Advanced dinghy sailing courses are overwhelmingly about teaching you to race. The Irish Sailing Association has two courses however, that show you how to navigate a longer distance on a dinghy – look up their Adventure 1 and Adventure 2 courses for an idea what these are about. The RYA does a similar course.
In my dinghy sailing club there are people who have been members for the last 20 years yet never competed in the serious Sunday racing. They just enjoy mastering the art of sailing, and may be seen at the odd club event or the Wednesday evening fun races when they have time.
This middle ground of not taking life too seriously forms the backbone of yachting. Yes, you might charge around the buoys in your pride and joy, but you won’t risk collision so you can make your opponent for the mark get a 360 degree turn penalty. Life is too short to spend your nights worrying about being on the podium at the end of the season!
To get to this point you may well have done some training – an ASA Basic Small Boat Handling course or an RYA Dinghy Level 2 course for example, so you know how to handle the boat safely, but for you sailing is about having a laugh not about pushing things to the red line.
This is not to say you will never be an expert sailor. Years of regular sailing experience will teach you many things that just doing sailing courses will never teach you. The UK government recognises this in that there are no compulsory courses in sailing, which may sound like a risk, but in fact allows people to be sensible in knowing their limits.
I have been sailing since the age of 5, have over 4000 logged sailing miles since the age of 15 in all conditions from flat calms to a Force 10 Atlantic storm, yet my highest sailing qualification is the RYA Day Skipper!
The all out racer dreams of beating the fleet at Cowes Week, and racing the Fastnet or Sydney Hobart. Children who get serious will enter the Optimist or Laser nationals and dream of Olympic glory…
Most won’t get aboard the 100ft super maxi Comanche that was designed to win every race it enters (yet came second in its first race, the 2014 Sydney Hobart). You will race dinghies or yachts and read up on tricks for crossing the start line first at the better end.
The best way to learn to race any type of boat is to race dinghies for a few seasons. This even applies to people who are young enough to dream of racing on the Barcelona Race or Volvo Ocean. You learn how to trim your sails perfectly and steer the best possible course to windward while minimising leeway.
To really excel in this, your best bet is to look up the advanced dinghy sailing courses such as the CanSail 5&6 courses in Canada, though most advanced sailing nations will have an expert level dinghy racing course that teaches the finer points and tactics of blasting around the buoys and getting on the podium at whatever level.