Sailing Holidays for Beginners


First up: Who invented the sail? It’s said that the Mesopotamians invented the sail in around 3000BC! Sails were made from papyrus, a plant that grows throughout the Nile, Tigris, and Euphrates river valleys. They provided a much faster form of transportation and enabled the Mesopotamians to trade with many more countries previously out of reach.

So whether you’re planning on any trading, a learning/working holiday, or just a relaxing break, here’s some top hints and tips to get you going on your journey into the world of boats, yachts and sailing…

What to wear: Always go prepared even if you’re going to a hot country. Take something cool, something warm and something waterproof. Try not to wear baggy clothing that could get caught in moving parts and take some shoes that have non-marking soles such as deck shoes or Crocs.

Choosing a lifejacket: If you’re going on a crewed holiday then the crew will help you fit the lifeackets that are provided but if you’re walking pontoons, hoping for a place on a local race boat, here’s how to choose a lifejacket that’s suitable for racing and cruising. Choose an automatic, 150Newton lifejacket suitable for your weight and chest size. Unless you’re particulalry large or small, the standard 150Newton lifejackets will fit. These are non-restrctive, light weight and, if you happen to end up in the drink, will inflate automatically and bring you to the surface with lights flashing!

How to board the boat: When the yacht is ‘alongside’, or next to a pontoon, the easiest way to get on is hold the ‘stays’ (metal wires holding up the mast) and climb over the guard rails. If the boat is ‘stern to’ with it’s back end to the pontoon, just jump on or use the ‘passarelle’ or gangplank.

Where’s the wind? Most boats will have a wind indicator at the top of the mast in the form of an arrow. Where ever the arrow points to is where the wind is coming from. Failing that, slowly turn your face until you can feel the wind on both your cheeks and hear it in both your ears. Look straight ahead and that’s a general idea of where the wind is coming from.

How to pull a rope: This may seem an obvious one but ropes on boats can get pretty heavy and loaded pretty quickly. Keep your fingers well away from moving parts and never let the rope slide through your hands, always feed it out, hand over hand. If you’re holding a rope and it gets too heavy, just let go. You won’t do any damage but there might be a lot of noise if it’s windy and the sails start flapping!

What NOT to do: Never jump into the sea from a moving boat. The average speed of a 40 foot long yacht is 7 mph. The average speed of an amateur swimmer is 0.5mph! That’s a long chase that you’re not going to win! Wait for the anchor to go down in a safe spot before diving in, no matter how tempting it looks!

Some useful terminology:

  • Port – left
  • Starboard – right
  • Stern/Aft – back
  • Bow – front
  • Sheets/halyards – ropes

And finally, if you’re really keen, Get Qualified. Choose a reputable RYA sailing school such as Fowey Maritime Centre and enjoy some fabulous sailing whilst learning the ropes.

It’s also a myth that only the rich and famous have access to the sailing world and some people think of it as a ‘posh’ person’s sport. But where does the term posh come from? Well, the word posh is said to have come from the phrase ‘Port Out Starboard Home’ which relates to the allocation of cabins on passenger ships in the time of the Raj. When travelling between the UK and India, the port side cabins were more desirable on the way out and the starboard side on the way back as they were in the shade. Only the wealthier passengers could afford these and therefore nowadays, if someone has a lot of money available to spend, they are coined with the term posh.

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