Forget giving up something for the New Year, why not start up something instead? How about a hobby that gets you outside more, keeps your body and mind active and is plenty of fun? Sailing is a hobby that can quickly become a way of life and is easier than you think. Here we will set out some tips to get started.
Starting from Scratch
Never been on a boat? Overwhelmed by the jargon and skill set required? Sailing is more accessible than ever and there are a number of ways to get started. Being in reasonable shape and being able to swim are obvious advantages to begin with, but many a sailor has started out less than fit and barely afloat!
Sailing involves both knowledge and skills. Reading about the basics of sailing will take care of the knowledge part. Basic sailing terms, parts of the boat, rigging, safety procedures, basic sailing techniques and knots can all be read up on from the comfort of your own home.
To become a sailor, the first skills you need are: being able to tell which way the wind is blowing, steering a boat and trimming the sails. This is when you actually need to get on a boat.
Getting your feet wet
If you live close to the sea or a lake, pond or reservoir the best way to begin is by joining a sailing club. These organizations often offer two or three day courses on sailing dinghies to learn about sails and wind. Starting out on a small boat is one of the best introductions you can get as you will learn to maneuver the boat on your own, read the wind and adjust the sails accordingly. Also, it is easy to fit into the busiest of schedules.
For those that are landlocked, there is also the possibility of learning to sail while on holiday. With a bit of research you can find opportunities for learn-to-sail holidays where you can earn some sea miles and learn the ropes in the sunshine on calm seas; under the supervision of competent instructors. An advantage of this is being able to take family or friends with you and learn all together - an instant Crew!
Having built a foundation, it is then time to move on and invest in a good sailing course on a bigger boat to hone your new found skills. Competent Crew courses abound and are offered by different organizations worldwide. Many of these courses can be spread over weekends or fit into summer holidays. The skills learned in the Competent Crew course involve knots and rope handling, mooring techniques, safety procedures, man overboard, sailing terminology and tender use.
Next up is the Day Skipper certification, a more intense course which teaches you to skipper a yacht in non-tidal waters by day. Skills learned in a Day Skipper course should include boat preparation, boat handling to a high standard, sail trimming, basic navigation, safety, passage planning and meteorology.
Charter a Sailboat
Once you have earned some stripes it is time to go ahead to the next step which is chartering a boat. An easy sailing destination should be chosen where winds are predictable and weather conditions good. First time out it may be a good idea to join a sailing flotilla, or a skippered charter where there will be a skipper on board to share the responsibility and provide an experienced hand. A smaller boat is easier to maneuver and ideal for gaining experience.
Mastering skills takes time and practice and becoming an expert can take years. Sailing is an invigorating, rewarding sport that expands horizons. Why not see if the sailing life is for you?
By Merryn Wainwright