by Des Ryan
Fancy being out on the water sailing in a free wind, surrounded by only the sound of the waves and the seagulls? If the answer is yes but you don't have a boat, maybe can't afford one and wouldn't know how to go about it anyway, read on for some great tips from long-time sailor Des Ryan:
You dream of doing this but don’t know where to start?
Yachting used to have a reputation for being the sole preserve of the unashamedly middle and upper classes. Whilst this is understandable given the enormous costs associated with sailing on larger yachts, there are many other ways to approach sailing apart from having a million or so of spare cash.
First, even if you had the cash, it wouldn't be much use if you didn't know how to sail, so that is the first hurdle. Next is a well-known secret: The best way to learn to sail is in a dinghy. The ways of the wind, the terminology, the tactics of sailing are all pretty much the same no matter the size of the boat, so stop thinking of sailing on a larger yacht until you have mastered the basics.
Depending on where you live, your area may very well have its own yachting or sailing club. In some places there will even be a variety of different clubs from which to choose. Joining one of these can give you an easy route to getting out on the water, and it may cost from nothing if you are merely accepted as a spare crew member for a day sail, or it may mean joining the club. Most clubs will charge a membership fee that could range from the surprisingly cheap to the intimidatingly expensive, but joining will demonstrate your commitment to learning how to sail.
However, there are sailing clubs and sailing clubs. Before joining a club you should do your research to make sure that they are friendly towards new members. You should make sure they are friendly towards people without previous sailing experience; in some of the more race-oriented clubs, you may find it more difficult to get a start. It should go without saying that clubs with this kind of hostile atmosphere are not worth either your time or your money.
Another great option is to enroll in a sailing class. Most of the time these will teach basic sailing skills on small boats rather than full-size yachts, although patience will reveal a wealth of teaching services aimed at all abilities and on a variety of different craft.
If you have already got some sailing experience, additional options are open to you. Sailing a yacht is not usually a simple one-person job; especially with larger yachts, a crew of several people is often needed (and generally preferable) to sail the boat safely.
People who own boats are commonly keen to make use of crew who are dependable and will turn up when they promise. If you are prepared to do this, you will find that many a yacht owner is grateful for your reliability, often missing when they have to depend on volunteers.
Whether you are competitively minded or not, the best way to learn to get the best out of a boat is to race. In many cases this commitment to regular use will involve a weekly afternoon or evening race with other members of a yacht club, and occasionally longer races further afield.
Even if you are 'second choice' in the beginning of your sailing career, sometimes the owner of a boat will find that members of their regular crew are unavailable, and this brings us to one of the best opportunities for keen reliable sailors to get out on the water.
Provided you are reasonably confident at most sailing tasks including basic navigation and you understand commonly used sailing terminology, you should have little trouble finding a boat owner who needs an extra crew member to compete in a particular race.
Whilst stand in crew members may find themselves being assigned the worst duties on board, that's the way to learn! The extra experience and chance to get sailing is the way to learn the ropes and maybe one day become a regular member of a crew.
Once you have achieved this you can look ahead. A day-sailor or a trailer-sailor is an economical way to start to be a boat owner, and this will also give you the chance to operate as skipper and take responsibility for the strategic and tactical decisions that are part and parcel of the boating experience.
From there it's all onward and upward towards the sailing life that you choose.