First Sailing Lessons

I have just dug out a few photos my wife took as she relished seeing me capsize!

My first lessons with a patient young Breton were on the Lac du Caniel, the place where the local sailing school teaches beginners and children. I then graduated to sailing catamarans on the sea at Veules les Roses. This was on 12th August 2008. I have no photos of my first outing on a two-hander (14-foot Topaz Magno). The first impression of sailing upwind is being on a razor edge or learning to ride a bicycle. You have to have the balance between the wind in the sail, the contrary pressure of the person sailing the boat on the weather gunwale and the helm.

These photos were on my second day of one-to-one lessons, when there was too much wind at sea, so we used this little artificial lake. The first thing is to push off from the dock against the wind, without so much as a paddle. The boat was a Topaz Uno, a heavy plastic job that is ideal for schools. It is roughly like a Laser, but much heavier. Its weather helm is like hell! My problem with this boat is that there is nowhere to sit unless you have a strong and constant wind, and you don’t get that on a lake. A puff here or there, a gust to take you unawares.

20080812learnsail01The poor fellow had to tow me away from the dock. Imbecile! That rudder is still up and I had no way to steer the boat. No wonder I was in trouble! First thing when you’re in the water is to get the rudder down, the very first thing even before grabbing the mainsheet.

20080812learnsail02In this next one, I’m doing reasonably well in a full reach, carefully watched by my instructor in his motor boat.

20080812learnsail03That’s me climbing back in after a capsize! My wife really enjoyed this one. You swim round to the centreboard and push down on it. That rights the boat (make sure the boat is facing the wind or she’ll go over again). Then you get back in over the gunwale or over the stern (no transom on this boat). My first capsize was quite frightening, so you have to understand why a boat capsizes and be able to right it.

20080812learnsail04Here I am as part of a team of youngsters taking catamarans down the slipway to the beach. This was a week’s class. I don’t like catamarans, but prefer dinghies. But they are good training. Keep on the weather side and they don’t capsize – unless you’re really daft!

20080812learnsail05Indeed, sailing is not improvised. There’s a certain amount of theory, how flowing air makes a boat move forward, etc. The boat is subject to forces from the air and the sea. You then have to relate the theory to the practice, and you begin to get somewhere. You also have to develop an intuitive sense and become able to react without panicking.

As with anything in life, it’s a learning curve, and I’m not afraid at my stage in life to learn something new.

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