How a sailing regatta (almost) put the wind in my sails

I don't mix well with water, but after experiencing Cowes Week I have begun to see the beauty of the boating life

Share

If I won the lottery — an especially unlikely prospect in my case, as I never play it — I'd be susceptible to the lure of all the customary accoutrements of a lottery millionaire, the villa in the South of France, the sports car, the fancy holidays etc.

The one thing I'd wouldn't spend my money on is a boat. I've put sailing alongside shooting, fishing and horse riding as the pursuits I'll probably get through my life without mastering. I never felt I had the combination of practical, logistical and physical skills necessary to be a sailor, and I don't much like being on the water, which turns out to be something of a handicap, too.

On the very odd occasion that I've been invited on someone else's boat, I immediately felt a sense of claustrophobia: the idea that you can't get off exactly when you want was something I found particularly disconcerting. I can appreciate that bobbing about in the Aegean Sea at sunset, gin and tonic in hand, is a rather appealing prospect, but I feel it's possible to achieve pretty much the same effect on dry land.

Crashing through the vicious swell in the Solent at 30mph, hitting the waves like they were brick walls, the spray hitting my face like a freezing cold, salty shower, is quite another matter, and this was the way I spent part of my weekend. I was in a RIB (a rigid-hulled inflatable boat, for the uninitiated) commuting from Southampton to Cowes on the Isle of Wight.

Cowes Week, one of the world's most venerable regattas involving more than 1,000 boats of a variety of sizes, has managed perfectly well without me for 186 years, and it's unlikely that my observations will create much of a ripple at the Royal Yacht Squadron.

The most striking of my first impressions looking out to sea was that I couldn't make head nor tail of what was going on. It made a really impressive sight, but hundreds of boats of different classes taking part in different races at the same time was, to the untutored eye, little more than organised chaos. Passenger ferries and commercial boats weaved their way through the flotilla of yachts, adding to the general sense of disarray. It was the nautical equivalent of Hyde Park Corner.

I was extremely fortunate that my guide to what was going on was Shirley Robertson, the Olympic sailor and the only British woman to win gold medals at consecutive Games, in 2000 and 2004. Shirley is as patient as she is delightful, and she answered my pathetically naive questions - “What's a spinnaker?”, “How do you sail against the wind?”, Do they have the Internet on the Isle of Wight?“ - with forbearance and good humour.

And then, when she clambered on to a racing boat and delivered her instructions to the crew, dispensing individual responsibilities, I could see that here was a master practitioner at work. As the boat sailed away, gracefully slicing through the waves, and heading smoothly towards the setting sun, I understood, for the first time, the universal beauty of this esoteric sport. It was almost enough to make me revise my opinion of sailing. But not quite.

READ MORE:
The fairest way to fix the benefits system
The death of Studio Ghibli was inevitable — but this might not be the end
Wouldn't we all resign if we were in Baroness Warsi's position?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

Amanda Hess
Armed RCMP officers approach Centre Block on Parliament Hilll  

Ottawa shooting: A shock attack in a peaceful nation

Jeffrey Simpson
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink