Whether you’re 17 or 70, it can be a daunting prospect stepping outside of your comfort zone and learning or ‘relearning’ the ropes. Sailing may have been a childhood pastime or something you did in your younger years, but why leave it there? For others, the thought of setting foot in a boat may have seemed impossible, or unlikely to say the least.
Joining your local club and getting back out on the water, meeting like-minded people and getting active could bring a sense of nostalgia, freedom, community and so much more! Most important of all, it’ll be a lot of fun!
The RYA’s Push the Boat Out (PTBO) campaign returns this May, offering free or low cost sailing and windsurfing taster sessions across the UK. Why not find out what’s on near you and give it a go?
A sport for life
On his return from working overseas, Robert Blakebrough decided to retire and set up a new life in south west London. “I’d been sailing keelboats all over the world for more than 20 years. I’d enjoyed the activity and the camaraderie,” Robert explains.
But with his old club now more than two hours away, he needed to find something closer to home. Having checked out his local club’s website, Robert decided he’d go along and find out more: “I was about to pop down and introduce myself, with a certain amount of anxiety in mind as I knew no-one and it was a very old and established club. Then by chance, I got a flyer through the door to say the club was doing a PTBO day the next Saturday and thought well this is more like it – I would be one of many!
“I should not have worried – I was made most welcome, everybody was very helpful and I was taken out on the river, to find out what sailing a dinghy was like. I had a most agreeable day, enjoyed a tasty BBQ and met a lot of new people very quickly.”
Robert has now been a member of the club for two enjoyable years and is very much involved in club life. He says: “What I like most is, of course, the sailing, but also that I have been welcomed openly by the members, many of whom have spent nearly literally a lifetime there. I now sail regularly and am learning a lot about dinghy sailing.
“I feel if you do not belong to a sailing club then you are really missing out. It’s out of this world, all your cares disappear and there is just you and the river, and hopefully, a gentle breeze.”
“After my diagnosis I thought the best thing to do was to forget about sailing,” explains 72 year-old, Chris Emmett. When the life-long sailor was diagnosed with MS at 40, he thought he’d never sail again, but ten years ago that all changed.
He had never heard of RYA Sailability and had no idea there was somewhere local that helped people with disabilities get on the water. “I was quite apprehensive the first time I went to a session. I was in a wheelchair and couldn’t picture how I’d possibly get in a boat. I didn’t realise there was such a thing as hoists and how many incredible people were willing to make all things possible.
“Once I was back on the water, it was like riding a bike – I soon got the hang of it again. I was in the fresh air, and for the first time in years, felt free.”
Sailing has also allowed Chris to satisfy his competitive streak as a regular on the national and European Hansa class racing circuit. In 2018 he was the Hansa Liberty National Champion and finished fifth at the 2017 Europeans in Meze, France, where he also picked up an award for being the oldest competitor!
Chris admits 10 years ago he could never have imagined what his life has become. But he will always be grateful to fate intervening and putting him back in a boat.
“People might be afraid to try sailing as they have a vision of being in footstraps hanging over the side or capsizing and falling in. But we’re sitting in these very stable boats facing forwards and, although I enjoy racing, there are as many people who just enjoy being on the water and paddling around under sail.”
He concludes: “I didn’t know any of this was possible, but now I live a free life and it really could happen to anyone. Independence is there and it’s grabbable.”
Try sailing in May
The RYA’s Push the Boat Out (PTBO) campaign is set to return this May, with more than 390 venues across the UK offering free or low cost, sailing and windsurfing taster sessions.
The national participation campaign aims to get more people on-the-water, having fun and getting active outdoors. All ages and abilities are welcome, with opportunities for children, families, beginners and lapsed sailors, as well as those with disabilities or special requirements for getting out on-the-water.
Last year, more than 39,000 people across the UK attended a PTBO open day, inspiring thousands of new sailors to join their local club.
Find out more about the Push the Boat Out campaign and events near you at www.rya.org.uk/ptbo.