A B O U T  Y A C H T I N G

About Yachting

One of my ambitions is to write a book describing Yacht Sailing - aimed at the reader who is interested, but who has assumed that the activity is somehow out of his or her reach.

The first task of such a book (and in fairness, it's a task that needs to start on the front and back cover - because otherwise the intended reader is never going to buy it) is to dispel certain myths. The myths (in no particular order) are:

• that all yachting people are snooty and obnoxious

This is completely false. Only some yachting people are snooty and obnoxious. Thankfully, not only are they a minority, but also they tend to hang out with their own kind.

• that yachting is expensive

This, unfortunately, is true - but it doesn't have to be true for everybody. Owning a yacht is very expensive, but there are plenty of owners who are looking for crew, and crewing is frequently free, or close to it. And chartering is remarkably cheap in comparison to owning a yacht, particularly if the cost is split among the whole crew. The cost will compare favourably with staying in a hotel.

• that yacht clubs are snooty and unwelcoming

Again, not true of most of them. Whilst it may be true that the Royal Yacht Squadron in Cowes would direct the casual visiting sailor (carring his towel and wash bag) elsewhere, a huge number of clubs round the UK coast and in neighbouring countries state conspicuously that they "welcome visiting yachtsmen" - and they do, for the two essentials of a sailing trip - beer and showers.

British Tribalism

It is a strange phonomenon of my native country that people who 'do' one sport tend to distrust and distance themselves from people who 'do' another.

In the Maritime context, sailors look down on motorboaters, and everyone except their users hates PWCs (=Jetskis). There is no love lost between professional fishermen and amateur boaters of any description. Divers are suspicious of yachtsmen, motorboaters and anglers, and surfers wouldn't dream of drinking with any of them. If gets worse: within the sailing community there are 'cruisers' and 'racers' with scarcely a good word to say about one another. I could go on, but you probably recognise the picture by now - and very silly it is.

I would like to 'come out' and admit that I am: a) a yactsman with a yacht, with a love of cruising but who enjoys the occasional race, b) a diver, c) used to own a RIB, d) enjoy catching and eating fish. If I had ever been able to stand up on the thing I would love surfing. In Australia or the USA I would be quite normal, but in the UK it makes me a bit freaky.

Real Yacht Sailing

I won't go on about the reasons people might choose not to sail - but any of the above myths and attitudes make you reluctant, then it is worth thinking again - particularly if you already love the sea.

Because that is what sailing gives you: access to the sea, in a unique and unrestricted way.

You can live on a sailing yacht, and you can go anywhere in the world with it. With a suitably equipped medium sized yacht (available for less than the price of a new car - and cheaper to insure) you can go pretty well anywhere in the world barring extreme lattitudes, provided you make long or challenging passages at a favourable time of the year. You are only restricted by your own knowledge, ability, time and 'bottle'.

Knowledge and ability are in any case, huge fun to acquire. Whether you are a complete beginner, or learning to be a skipper, or building up your experience as a skipper, every time you go out on a yacht is an opportunity to learn. The more often you can go sailing the better, and practical courses are simply cruising holidays, structured to teach you to be useful on a yacht.

When you're not on a yacht you can read, and there is a rich and engaging world of knowledge, shared by all seafarers, covering navigation, tides, weather and the rules and conventions. This knowledge is very accessible (start here - on this website) and not particularly hard to understand - but it is different to the sort of thing you are probably used to thinking about, which makes it interesting and a little bit challenging. (It also explains the time-honoured gulf between seafarers and 'landlubbers').

Time is, of course, the big problem for most people. There is no doubt at all that given enough time, you can transform your involvement in sailing from 'weekend hobby' to a life-changing experience. I think of long-distance sailing as the pinnacle of yachting, because of the extraordinary travel opportunities it affords. (Others are more disparaging, referring to the tribe of weather-beaten ocean sailors as 'live-aboards'). But it is true that because of the amount of time you need, it requires a huge amount of commitment to do it, or a very lucky opportunity. The majority of cruising sailors are restricted to holidays of a week or two, and these can also be amazingly rewarding.

Because a yacht gives you this unique access to the sea, you can combine sailing with other interests - once you have learned to be a skipper, and charter or own a yacht. In my own case a very much like catching fresh fish as I'm going along (what better breakfast than a freshly-caught mackerel rolled in oatmeal and fried in butter, with a rasher of bacon), I enjoy taking photographs, I like to read and write, and I enjoy snorkelling and diving. Others travel around with kyaks and windsurfers - perhaps for the family - and in the cult movie 'Crystal Voyager', a bronzed Californian surfer/photographer builds himself a yacht to go off 'in search of the perfect wave'.

This is what I call Real Yacht Sailing - because you're not doing it in an effort to impress anyone, you're doing it because it connects with something deep in your psyche. Read Bernard Moitessier. Sail to nourish your soul!