Despite our speed, we made little discernible progress, and our long, diagonal tacks always seemed to bring us back to more or less the same spot. But I was prepared for this: sailing had always seemed a rather futile method of transport. What I wasn't expecting was the sheer elemental joy of it, the feeling of giving yourself up to the wind and the sea, running effortlessly with them. Here was a new sport that I could throw myself into - and, both unusually and appropriately, as it was her birthday we were celebrating in Cornwall, my wife Ginny seemed as enthusiastic as I was.
I have always been catholic, even promiscuous, in my sporting tastes - or perhaps it's just that I've never been good enough at any one sport to make a real commitment to it, I still play about half a dozen sports on a regular basis and have, at one time or other, tried everything from fencing to karate to discus-throwing (all of 30 minutes) and rugby league (I'll admit it was only touch rugby league, but that didn't save me from a deliberate kneeing in the temple from a ruthless opponent that left me seeing stars). There are some sports that I've always admired but which are forever beyond me because they require a basic skill that I have never acquired and am unlikely to now, such as ice-hockey, pole-vaulting or polo; others are prohibited by their expense - motor racing and polo (again).
But I had always unthinkingly classified sailing as a sport in which I had no conceivable interest, rather like golf. My prejudice against the latter was confirmed a couple of summers ago, when we found ourselves, strangely, having lunch at a Japanese country club in Sussex. My mother- in-law, once a keen player herself suggested that I take a few swings in the driving range afterwards. Easy, I thought, and I'll impress the boys while I'm at it. So I handed over pounds 5 for a bucket of 20 balls, thinking what an outrageous rip-off this was because I would be through them in a couple of minutes.
I lined up my swing, holding the club in approximately the right way, flexed my wrists and adjusted my stance until I was set. Then I unwound for a stroke that would surely send the small ball into the far distance ... If I made contact. I did not. Nor did I threaten the ball on five or six further swings, each one more restrained, more respectful, more tentative than the previous one. Finally I managed to clip the top of the ball and see it trickle along the ground for, ooh, a good six feet.
I still had 19 balls to dispatch. My mother-in-law, wife and two young sons were by now helpless with laughter, tears cascading down their cheeks, and I didn't think they could take much more of it. Perhaps, I suggested, one of them could roll the ball towards me - clearly I had a particular problem with a sport in which the ball stood still.
However misleading first impressions can be, they are hard to ignore if they chime so perfectly with your expectations. I have no intention of picking up a golf club again, I can't imagine the circumstances that would make me change my mind. In the same way - and in less expert hands than Skipper James - I could have finished up in the cold water of St Mawes harbour last weekend, or worse still, been becalmed and bored for a few hours. That's sailing for you, I would have concluded; not really my thing - never thought it would be.
But it didn't turn out that way, and I've been bitten by the bug. How far I'll take it I have no idea, but I know I want to be able to take a small boat out solo, and I'll be combing through the brochures looking for family sailing courses next year. There's a long way to go and some hard slog along the way - night school courses in navigation are particularly unappealing - but the thought of selling up, investing everything in an ocean-going boat and setting sail is beginning to have its attractions.Reuse content