I used to go sailing with my dad and, the last time I was left in charge of a boat, I was 14. Between me and my friend, not only did we capsize it but we managed to get the mast stuck on the bottom of the river Thames and my poor dad had to dive into the filthy water to free it!! So when my husband suggested we have some sailing lessons before we embarked on a flotilla holiday, I thought… probably a good idea!
Lucky for me, I work for Haven so I knew we could do this at the sailing school at Rockley park, in Dorset. So we decided to sign up for the RYA level 1 course and book into a caravan – making a weekend of it.
We took the Friday off work and checked in just after lunch; it’s been a while since Rob has stayed in a caravan and he was most impressed by our Prestige caravan with its gas central heating, double glazing and en suite loo!
Our course didn’t start until the following morning so, as it was a gorgeous September afternoon (contrary to what was forecast), we caught the chain link ferry across from Sandbanks to Studland, parking in the National Trust car park on the other side. We then did a 3 mile walk up from the bay to Old Harry – an out crop of rocks (not sure how it got its name!), We walked along the coastal path to Dunstan Head, overlooking Swanage, then cut back to Studland, stopping off for a quick pint at the Bankes Arms before making our way back to the park. That evening we had supper at a lovely Italian restaurant called Diva in Poole high street… we had already planned fish and chip takeaway on the park for Saturday!
Day 1 of sailing started out a bit wet but the weather improved as the day went on! We were introduced to Dom, our teacher. We were then kitted out with waterproofs and a buoyancy aid – although we were assured it was very hard to capsize this particular boat! We were taught the different parts to the wayfarer dingy we were learning to master. We learnt to rig up the sails and some basic skills on where to sit, what the helm does and what the crew does and then we practised ‘going about’ on dry land before we set sail on the water.
Once on the water we faced the dinghy into the wind and put up the sails. It was all a bit different out to sea as once out of the harbour it got a bit gusty so going about was a lot faster and less controlled to put it mildly! On a few occasions we nearly capsized but Dom kept the boat upright. His calm approach was just what was needed as I think we were all getting a bit nervous! Dom explained about point of sail and where the sails should be depending on the wind direction and by the end of day one we all felt pretty confident.
Back in our cosy caravan we enjoyed a well earned supper of delicious fish and chips from the restaurant at Rockley and a bottle of Prosecco!
Day 2 started with Rob and I testing each other on our new found boat knowledge! We then headed off to Rockley sailing school for a lesson on point of sale and a quick recap on the day before. Then we headed out to get the boat rigged and ready for water, Dom watched and checked we were on track! It was a lot less gusty which was ideal for us beginners as we sailed out into pool harbour. We had to be careful and keep between the markers or we might go aground – Dom explained that the average depth across Poole harbour was only six inches.
We all had a turn at the helm and I was surprised at how much I’d learnt. The wind dropped so much that we came in early and de rigged the boat on our own under the watchful eye of Dom.
After a bit more theory and a bit of a pet test from Dom (to check who’d been listening!) we received the news that we had all passed our RYA level one – yay!
Now we can’t wait to do level 2 in the spring – another excuse for a lovely weekend away on the Dorset coast. I just need to find somewhere to practice in the mean time…
To find out more about Rockley Park’s Watersports School, click here.