This weekend I took my partner on a sailing experience day with a sailing school in Lymington in the UK. Though the RYA Start Yachting course is two days long, the idea is to let the potential sailor see if they enjoy it. Judging by the conversion of my sailing sceptical partner, perhaps only a day sailing in good conditions is enough?
This piece will look at what we got up to this weekend and then compare the course to other sailing experience courses around the world…
I’d booked the day’s sailing as a Christmas present for Tracee but the UK weather was against us for the first three months of the year – the procession of gales that amounted to the winter of 2016 hit us on three successive weekends and we had to re-book each time. Though inconvenient, it gave me confidence in Sea Jay’s Sailing School – that they wouldn’t take us out in any old weather!
This Sunday the weather looked very good for a first timer – 12-15 knots of wind and the odd light shower. We met the family who were coming with us, were given oilskins and buoyancy aids, before an extensive safety briefing by the skipper.
Out on the Solent, we set sail and did an upwind leg to the east for a couple of hours. All the novices aboard got a spin on the helm, and we did a number of tacks so people could see what it is all about.
We set anchor off the Isle of Wight, had a relaxed lunch and a coffee before weighing anchor and doing a series of broad reaches back west toward Lymington so the instructor Tim could show us how to gybe. I even had a spell on the helm as the wind briefly went up to 20kts and the sailing school’s 40ft Sea Lily came alive, blasting down the Solent. It certainly put a smile on my face!
In much the same way as many a football widow, Tracee smiles politely when I go off on one about the latest elite yachting news but takes little interest herself. To that extent she was nervous of what to expect. Her only experience of going to sea had been on a ferry from Spain to Portsmouth in a Force 10 where she had spewed the whole way. This added to the nerves!
Tracee relaxed very quickly as we got going, and soon had a grin on her face as we gently made our way up the Solent. At anchor the boat changed its motion and she felt a wee bit queasy below, but once we were underway again she got really into it.
The reason I took her sailing is because I have an eye on a family day sailing boat with the intention of getting our daughter (Tali) sailing soon after she learns to walk. The most important factor in making this happen is Tali’s mother enjoying the sport – parenting at sea is a two handed job! Our day out has enabled us to take a step closer to that dream.
The RYA Start Yachting course is the first on the ladder and is designed to give people a taste of yacht cruising. You will cover a range of basic exercises from man overboard to tacking, helming, safety rules of the road and meteorology. All of this is designed to help someone ask themselves the main question – “Is a life at sea for me?”. With courses costing anything from £200 per person I do wonder whether the course as a whole is too intense?
Looking at other entry level courses around the world, such as Australia’s Start Crewing course (that takes 12 hours), or the Canadian equivalent, the RYA isn’t alone in offering a weekend’s sailing as a taster course to the sport.
However, looking at individual sailing school courses around the world, many private companies seem to have seen that a short taster of the sport in good sailing conditions can get people enough of a flavour that they want to do some more. Though you can do the full weekend afloat with the attendant highs and lows that come with 36 hours on a boat, perhaps just a flavour will get someone hankering for more?
Sailing is a career – it is not just a sport. You never learn it all, but the more you do the more you learn. Give someone a taste – put a big grin on their faces for a day and they are likely to want to come again. Though as a sailing school you aren’t taking a full weekend fee from them for the taster course, it is likely to get them wanting to know more and hopefully coming back to you to learn it!