IT was a perfect day for my first ever sailing lesson with Burton Sailing Club at Foremark Reservoir in Milton.
My instructor Keith Pallett, a chatty and enthusiastic Yorkshireman with many a story to tell, informs me that I will be able to sail the boat by myself after just an hour. I’m not so sure this will be the case.
If there’s anyone that’s likely to have a Bridget Jones-style moment and end up in the water, it’s me.
Sailing is clearly Keith’s passion – he has been doing it for 25 years. He is keen to pass on his raft of knowledge to other people, especially younger generations who he feels can benefit greatly by discovering the sport.
On the afternoon we went out on the water the sun was shining, with just enough wind to be able to get up some speed on the yacht, which can go as fast as 10mph depending on the wind direction.
Keith has sailed in many places, but it is the west coast of Scotland that is his favourite. His family has also fallen in love with sailing – he has a son and a daughter who both also regularly take part in events. His son Matt, who also assists on the day, tells me that people are always surprised to hear that someone from Derbyshire is a sailing enthusiast, as they assume it is a hobby that only people living by the coast can enjoy. But with such a beautiful training ground right on your doorstep, it is clear to see why many people try out the sport and stick to it.
As I begin my lesson (after managing to get on the boat without falling in), it soon becomes apparent that there are a few words you need to learn and things that you have to remember to do, such as duck down in the boat whenever the sail comes your way for a ‘tack’ when you are changing the direction of the sails.
Rather than using complex terminology, Keith makes it as simple as he possibly can by explaining there are just a few things that you need to remember when in the boat: ‘rope, sail, wind and water.’
It sounds simple, right?
The boat is steered by something called a tiller, which is basically a stick that you push away from you or pull towards you. For a while Keith allows me to be in charge of the steering – it seems quite easy at first. However, I soon learn that there is a lot more to it than meets the eye. You constantly have to be aware of which way the wind is blowing and whether a big gust is heading your way. An indication of this comes through black areas in the water.
Another sign the boat isn’t quite happy is when the sails make a flapping noise – your cue to do something. Not being the most co-ordinated individual, I was half guessing it most of the time, prompting Keith to advise me which way I should be steering. “Push the tiller away, now straighten, pull the tiller towards you,” he suggested.
I also have a rope in my other hand to loosen off the main sail if needs be, but two things at once is a bit much for me, so I just stick to the stick, so to speak.
Like with any new skill, at first it seems simple but, a bit like when learning to drive a car, you soon realise there is more to it than that. If it were down to me we would have ended up crashing into the wall – the responsibility of steering appeared to make me forget to look where we were going and Keith had to remind me to ‘look ahead’.
The racing yacht is Keith’s pride and joy. He refers to it as ‘she’ and he has used her in many races. There is not much Keith doesn’t know about the boat’s history, and indeed about the history of sailing. He has two boats to his name and is at the reservoir almost daily, and that’s on top of running his own business. Sailing for him is a hobby, but one that he puts a lot of time and effort in to.
For example, Thursday night is women only at the club. “They love it,” said Keith. “They have a great time. With the men there’s too much competition, but with the women they are busy chatting about Sainsbury’s and getting a glass of wine after.”
He also intends to start taking children from local schools out on the water, including from Swadlincote’s Pingle School in Newhall’s William Allitt.
He said: “Some of the kids we teach have learning difficulties or have gone through abuse. It’s great when they come out sailing, it teaches them confidence and they love it.
“They are then able to go and talk in front of people about it, which is something they wouldn’t have done before.
“It’s a great thing for them to do and more should be encouraged to try sailing.”
Keith tells me that one girl aged just 14 took to it from her first lesson, and he has her down as an Olympic hopeful. She is currently training hard in between schoolwork.
I don’t think I’m quite at the Olympic stage yet. My time on the water flew by and I definitely had a better idea of what I was doing by the end.
It takes about eight hours of lessons before leaners are able to sail on their own, Keith tells me. That seems quite quick, but with a teacher as passionate about the sport as Keith, I can see why.
Anyone who fancies trying their hand at sailing can do so for free at an open day to be held on Bank Holiday Monday, May 26, hosted by Burton Sailing Club.
More information can be found at burtonsailingclub.co.uk
In addition, as part of National Watersports Month, the Royal Yacht Association is set to host a series of ‘Push the Boat Out’ events across the country. To find your nearest one, and to see what activities are running, visit www.rya.org.uk/go/ptbo
The tasters are a chance for people to discover their local sailing club, meet like-minded people and have a go.