Steering a new course

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SAILING is one of the oldest methods of transport in the world but is now more commonly enjoyed as a leisure pursuit.

Thanks to the so-called Olympic legacy, residents are now turning to sports such as sailing and Redditch has the luxury of its very own club, founded more than half a century ago and based at Arrow Valley Lake since 1973.

To get a real experience of sailing, the Standard’s Harriet Ernstsons enrolled in the Royal Yachting Association Level One and Two courses offered by the club twice a year.


THERE were a fair few apprehensive faces as the course began at the lake, with trainees anxious to discover how they would go about controlling the GP dinghies used by the club.

But these nerves soon turned to smiles as the instructors explained the basics of rigging up the boat, the terminology needed and took everyone out on the water for the first time.

We were tasked with acting as the crew – sitting at the front and controlling the smaller of the two sails – while the instructors took on the role of the helm – the person in charge of the main sail and the steering.

After a demonstration from those in the know, it was time to take charge of the tiller and learn how to sail across the wind and, perhaps more importantly, how to turn the boat in a different direction. 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.

The second day of the course saw us practising the skills we had learned and taking on a triangular course, learning how to position the sails and the boat upwind and downwind while also concentrating on the five principles of sailing.

These involved us checking the balance of the boat was correct – with the crew tasked with moving around the GP to ensure it remained flat on the water, where the sails were positioned and how to most effectively travel around a course without losing speed by travelling head on in to the wind.

By the afternoon, it was time to take on the challenge of jibing. We had previously been taught how to turn away from the wind – also known as tacking – but jibing sees the boat turn through the wind. This can be a trickier procedure as the wind catching the sails means it can go a lot quicker but we were given advice on when it was safe to jibe and how to do so in a controlled way.

As Level One progressed, instructors started getting out of the boats, leaving the trainees to practice their new skills. It soon became apparent that knowing what to do when was much easier with someone experienced in the boat.


THE START of the second course saw us taking on perhaps the most daunting task of all – practising a capsize.

Each trainee was asked to perform the procedure twice, once as the crew and once as the helm. Both of the people in the boat perform a very different role, with the crew lying alongside the boat to enable them to remain inside it once it is righted while the helm is tasked with pulling the boat back over.

As well as learning what to do when the whole boat is tipped over, we were taught how to react when one of the people inside the boat falls out – known as a man overboard.

It is important to take the right course away and then back towards them to enable the boat to stop beside them in a controlled way without running them over but close enough for them to climb back in.

Having learned the basics of sailing in Level One, Level Two was more about extra skills we may need should we continue our sailing careers, including learning how to ‘come alongside’ another boat, particularly useful when we needed to climb in and out of other dinghies, and how to land when the wind is blowing on to the bank.

Some of the learning was also done on dry land, with the importance of checking the weather highlighted – it is of course not advisable to sail when there is too much or not enough wind, and different knots to learn as well as the principles of racing – just like on the roads there are rules to learn when sailing near to other boats.

All in all, sailing proved to be a complicated but enjoyable experience. At first controlling the boat seemed like an impossible task and it only got harder as more aspects were added in, but once we were used to being out on the lake and things started clicking in to place it was really rewarding to discover the boat was pointing in the right direction and gathering pace.

Redditch Sailing Club run courses in the spring and autumn. Visit for more information.

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