Cruising & Sailing Information

The Reluctant Sailor - Tips for the Sailing Beginner

Stroll around any marina and you will soon spot the classic sailing characters: the old enthusiast, patiently restoring a wooden shell to its sleek former self; the dedicated racer, tweaking his stripped out, cutting edge craft; or even tanned BMW man, who turns up on sunny weekends to take his latest woman out for a spin in his souped-up power boat.

Move to the bar, and you'll find them easily. The old hand, scruffed down, ready for that all important anti-fouling job. The smart executive, shades in hand, leading an enthusiastic team-building session. Or the sun-bleached student, fresh from his gap year spent taking boats down to the Med.

But what about the rest? What about the unsung sailors? What about those resigned individuals who, worn down after years of hints, huffs and sweet-talking, finally utter the fateful words: 'Oh, for God's sake, alright then!'

In less time than it takes to hoist a mainsail, these women (for they are usually women) find themselves huddled nervously on the deck of a boat, trying to come to terms with the fact that yachts are supposed to tip over, and that this is good thing.

There are a surprising number of these reluctant sailors. Most, like me, would prefer never to set foot on a boat but, driven by the need to see their sailing-mad partners on at least one weekend out of twenty, occasionally venture out onto the water.

In my case, my 'Reluctant Sailor' status comes largely down to a fear of venturing into an alien environment, where I am not in control.

I do not like not being in control. When a yacht tips over, I want to know that it - that I! - can do something to correct it. When we are picking our way through a narrow channel, I want to know how to avoid hitting unseen rocks or other boats, and when my children are sitting on deck, I want to know how to rescue them if they fall into the water.

Education is the key and unfortunately this means that I, as the terrified new owner of a yacht, now face the prospect of learning to sail, so that I am not frightened of sailing.

But my reluctance stems not only from fear. There are many other reasons why I have no interest in sailing. It is cold. It is wet. It is usually raining, and always uncomfortable. Be honest now. How many good nights' sleep have you ever had on a yacht?

And yes, while there are around three days out of every year when weather, location and company combine to make sailing a blissful experience, does that really make up for the other 362 days when it is not?

My husband thinks it does. And so, nine years after we exchanged our dinghy for a baby and a pair of patio doors, I have finally relented. We have bought a yacht.

He is happy. The kids are happy. And I?. I have come up with some ground rules to keep me happy?

  • The Force Four Rule - The Reluctant Sailor will not set foot on the boat if the forecast even hints at winds above force 4. [This rule is an adaption of the existing 12 C rule for dinghy sailing]

  • The Sunshine Rule - The Reluctant Sailor will not go sailing if there is no prospect of sunshine over the period of the sailing expedition.

  • The Anchorage Rule - No anchorage will be acceptable to the Reluctant Sailor unless it is within 100 metres of a pub/restaurant/hotel, and preferably a small town with a guaranteed escape route.

  • The Fair's Fair Rule - The Sailing Fanatic will match every week/weekend that the Reluctant Sailor spends sailing with a week/weekend somewhere warm, dry and comfortable - preferably abroad.

  • The Don't Shout Rule - The Sailing Fanatic must not shout excitedly when asking the Reluctant Sailor to do something. The Reluctant Sailor reserves the right to tell the Sailing Fanatic where to stick his boat if he raises his voice.

  • The Rain Rule - Unless the presence of the Reluctant Sailor is required on deck to avoid capsize, collision or other near-death experience, the Sailing Fanatic will deal with all work on deck while it is raining. The Reluctant Sailor will be having coffee and Kit-Kat's in the cabin.

  • The Maintenance Rule - The Reluctant Sailor shall not be expected to maintain the boat under any circumstances. The words 'anti-fouling', 'sanding' and 'painting' are of absolutely no interest to the Reluctant Sailor.

  • The Too Much Time Rule - The Sailing Fanatic is not allowed to go into a huff when the Reluctant Sailor casually mentions that the Sailing Fanatic has spent the last four weekends 'fiddling with that wretched boat', and that the handsome divorcee from next door has moved in to keep the Reluctant Sailor company.

  • The Packing Rule - The Sailing Fanatic will keep his mouth firmly closed on the subject of packing for a sailing expedition. The Reluctant Sailor reserves the right to bring along anything and everything needed to sustain her through the ordeal, but will, if pushed, draw the line at the handsome divorcee from next door.

  • The Children Rule - The Reluctant Sailor will not be solely responsible for entertaining/controlling the children in the cramped and un-child friendly environs of a boat. The Sailing Fanatic wished for a family sailing experience and a family sailing experience he shall get.

  • The Money Rule - The Sailing Fanatic accepts that once the sailing budget is gone, it is gone. He will just have to wait for that essential bit of kit. Any suggestion that this is not fair will cut no ice with the Reluctant Sailor, who is perfectly aware of her moral high ground on the subject of sailing and money, and will calmly point to the outrageous expense of buying the bloody boat in the first place.

    Helen MacKenzie is a freelance writer. She contributes to the web site at The Sea Dreamer web site has articles, guides and news on sailing and cruising on the West Coast of Scotland.

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