Feature: Standard reporter sails into the unknown

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All pictures courtesy of Redditch Sailing Club. (s)

THE WORD ‘sport’ often conjures up images of mainstream hobbies such as football, cricket and rugby.

But recently, helped dramatically by the London Olympic Games, people have been looking more towards other sports and one, perhaps the most traditional of all, has been commanding more attention – sailing.

Redditch Sailing Club has existed for more than half a century, moving to its current location at Arrow Valley Lake in 1973.

To get a real experience of sailing, the Standard’s Harriet Ernstsons has signed up the course offered each spring by RSC.

Day One:

THERE were a fair few apprehensive faces on Saturday morning at Arrow Valley lake as the seven people who had signed up to the course prepared to embark on their maiden voyage.

We were told it was normal to see nerves beforehand and that they would soon turn to smiles once that first attempt at sailing had taken place – and they were right.

First up was a talk about what the course would entail, two full days and an afternoon to be trained up the Royal Yachting Association’s Level One standards and the same again for Level Two.

There was a lot of information to take in about how to rig up the boat, the different knots used and the terminology for the different parts within the boat – for example a rope is referred to as a sheet – but we were not expected to learn it all by heart the first time round.

Once the preparation was done it was time to get in the boat and set sail around the lake, with the two trainees in each boat acting as the crew who control the smaller jib sail while the trainer sat at the back steering and controlling the main sail.

From the first outing it was clear everyone on the course was going to enjoy it, being out on the lake in what was at the time very calm weather was definitely an enjoyable experience and it got even more exciting once we were allowed to take to the helm.

The afternoon saw us being taught how to use the tiller to steer the boat, while also looking after the main sheet. At first it seemed like a daunting experience remembering everything, especially when we were taught about tacking – turning the boat around through the wind – which seemed to be impossible but soon became easier to master. We were told it was like changing the gears in a car, while at first the driver has to think about every step, soon it becomes natural.

As the rain came down and the wind started gathering pace, it became a little rocky out on the water but we were taught how to look for gusts of wind and how best to ensure the boat did not tip over. There were a couple of hairy moments when some of the boats began to lean but luckily no one managed to capsize themselves and their crew.

By the end of the day, everyone was absolutely soaked and freezing cold but those smiles had not faded.

Day two:

THE SECOND day of the course started off with all of the trainees getting back in the boats to practise the skills learned last time. The water was much calmer and the sun was shining which provided a good opportunity to refresh the basics.

Once we had all refamiliarised ourselves with the boats, it was time to take on a triangular course – meaning we would be sailing across the wind, upwind and downwind as well as of course taking on the challenge of tacking at each corner.

We were taught the five principles of sailing which if followed are supposed to ensure your boat stays upright and you sail in the direction you want to go. The instructors quizzed us on the principles while we were out on the water which meant we began to look out for them ourselves, checking the balance, sails and other elements needed to keep going.

After a lunch break, it was time to take on the challenge of jibing – turning through the wind. We had been warned this was a tricker procedure than tacking as the wind catches your sails meaning the turn is a lot quicker. Even some of the most experienced sailors will not jibe when there are strong winds.

As well as being shown the turn on the lake by the course leaders, we were also given the chance to try it out while the boats were on dry land, meaning we could hopefully perfect the art of the manouver itself and get our hands, legs and bodies in the right place before being asked to try it out on the water.

Jibing was much like tacking in that once you had done it enough times it became easier to focus on turning rather than looking into the boat to see where your hands were – something which is highly discouraged as it means you lose track of which direction you are going in.

But a bigger challenge was yet to come – just before the afternoon session ended the instructors came out of the boat meaning we were left on our own. It became apparent that knowing how to sail is only a small part of the process, knowing what to do when is the hardest part.

Despite a small amount of nerves, the session ended successfully with no capsized boats or soggy learners!

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