The wind in your sails

Once you know your bowline from your anchor hitch, you can hoist your mainsail anywhere. Ruth Gordon takes a crew of four around the Adriatic
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Add to that the stunning views of the Elafiti islands, just off Dubrovnik, and you can be living out a dream. And that's precisely what I was doing a few weeks ago, when I took a crew of four for a week's yachting in Croatia. We sailed from one island to another on a 43ft Sun Odyssey, reaching places inaccessible by car, teased along by occasional pods of dolphins. Evenings were spent moored in coves or on village quays, eating oysters and sea bass, and pondering whether Odysseus really had any cause for complaint when Calypso held him captive for seven years on this beautiful stretch of the Adriatic.

If the thought of cruising along the Dalmatian coast doesn't whet your appetite, then perhaps the sight of 1,000 yachts beating around the Solent next week, during Cowes Week, the world's largest sailing regatta, will do the trick.

Surprisingly, there is no driving test to pass before you can take a boat out, and many sailors pick up boat-handling in an organic way. But if you want to crew, take part in a race, or skipper a yacht, you'll need a few seamanship skills.

Getting started is easier than you might think. You could try dinghy sailing on your local reservoir, but for the full yachting experience, you'll need to contact your nearest sailing club. There are 1,500 centres in the UK offering courses that meet standards set by the Royal Yachting Association (RYA), and 130,000 people complete these courses each year. The two most useful RYA courses are Competent Crew, for complete beginners, and a Day Skipper's certification. These courses take five days, or three weekends.

Once qualified as a Day Skipper, you'll have sufficient skill to take out a small yacht with your own crew, although it's as well to give yourself plenty of experience with other skippers before you take command of a vessel. More advanced training courses, such as Coastal Skipper and Yachtmaster Offshore, include a practical examination, and successful candidates are awarded RYA certificate of competence. You can find your nearest sailing club on the RYA's website ( Booking in low season can save money, but be warned: taking your Day Skipper in January might give you plenty of experience of extreme weather conditions but it can be less fun when you are chipping ice off the deck before you set sail.

A Competent Crew or Day Skipper course, in the UK, costs between £280 (low season) and £405 with Sunsail (, which has fleets in Portsmouth and Largs, in Scotland. The price includes tuition, and on-board accommodation, breakfast, lunch and snacks, which you make yourself. A pre-requisite for the Day Skipper course is that you have either completed the Competent Crew course, or have experience of five days' sea time (or 100 miles) under your belt.

Instruction boats are usually 37ft cruiser/racers, and courses have a student/instructor ratio of five to one on board; you may have to share a cabin. The boats have a galley and even hot showers, although marinas also provide good washing and laundry facilities (marina and mooring fees are usually split among the crew). Your training includes pilotage, boat handling, seamanship and navigation, sufficient to enable you to skipper a small yacht in familiar waters during the day. You will also learn how to sail at night, basic first aid and emergency procedures.

The novice needs little in terms of equipment, but sailing boots, gloves and deck shoes make life more comfortable - and you look the part. If you're sailing in the UK, waterproofs can be hired for £5 a day from the charter company.

The same courses are available in warmer climates. Sunsail offers RYA-approved courses in the Canary Islands; IJsselmeer, the Netherlands; Phuket, Thailand; and even around The Whitsundays, Australia. It is also possible to book flotilla holidays, hire an instructional skipper and book land holidays that have a sailing element, with or without instruction. A Day Skipper course in Lanzarote costs £695 through Sunsail, including flights, while a course in Phuket costs roughly £850, also including flights.

In any marina, you can probably find one or more millionaires, but yachting is not beyond most people's pockets and prices compare favourably with the cost of a skiing holiday. And once you've got the wind in your sails, so to speak, and you know your bowline from your anchor hitch, you will be able to hoist your mainsail in any number of exotic locations from Antigua to Tonga; or even race with the world's finest sailors around the Isle of Wight. All aboard!


Sunsail:; 023 9222 2224 for courses 0870 7770318 for charters

Cowes Week information:

Royal Yachting Association: RYA House, Ensign Way, Hamble, Southampton, SO31 4YA, United Kingdom;; 0845 345 0400

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