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Where To Sail

1: Coastal or inner-city?

For most newcomers to the sport, and especially those who start with dinghy or keelboat sailing, one of the first steps is to choose a club to join. The UK has a long-established club structure for the sport of sailing, with clubs organising virtually all the racing, as well as much of the tuition. All but a tiny handful of the nationís 700 or so clubs are affiliated to the RYA, the sportís national governing body. Over the past dozen years or so many have benefited from substantial National Lottery funding and now offer facilities that many could only have dreamt of 20 years ago.

Many non-sailors perceive that most sailing takes place on the sea, or at a few high profile and very large bodies of inland water. This is, however, a distorted picture ó the UKís sailing clubs are as diverse as the nationís population and there are many great clubs that offer excellent racing and training on small reservoirs, ponds and lakes, as well as on Britainís many rivers. One result of this is that very few people in the UK are more than an hourís travel from a variety of sailing opportunities.

In fact, some of the best racing in the UK takes place in seemingly unlikely inner city settings. There are ways in which such apparent drawbacks can be put to advantage. For instance, you can learn a huge amount about wind awareness from racing at city centre clubs. Equally, an evening sail in jovial company on Millwall Dock, in the shadow of Canary Wharf, is a great-stress buster after a long day at the office.

If you ultimately want to sail multihulls or keelboats, then your options as to where to sail will be more limited, but it may still make sense to initially opt for a smaller club close to home. Dinghy racing on a narrow stretch of river, or a small lake, can see the action concentrated into a small area, which maximises the fun and accelerates the rate at which you hone your new-found skills.

Those who learn to sail and race on small bodies of water often have very good boat handling skills and boat-on-boat tactics. As each leg of the course may only be a few minutes in duration, they get far more practice at these very important aspects than many sailors. Equally, they tend to be very good at reading very shifty wind patterns. Conversely, those who sail mostly on large reservoirs may be better tactically in big fleets, while those who sail on the sea will always be thinking of tidal streams, even if only subconsciously.

At the end of the day no single venue is likely to make you a better sailor than any other ó successful sailors are all-rounders that have experience of many different situations. One advantage of a club on a larger stretch of water might be that some give improved opportunities for pottering, for those who want to practice some of their newly acquired skills before testing them out on the race track. In any case, do not forget that once you start doing well in club racing you may want to travel to open meetings at other clubs, where you can compete against a larger number of your class of boat. This in turn means your choice of home club may assume less importance.

To locate clubs in your area and research information about them, ask your national sailing association. As well as key information such as classes sailed, location and so on, you will also get contact information and a link to the clubís website. Bear in mind that many of the smaller clubs rely on volunteers rather than full-time staff, so donít be put off if you donít get an instant response to your first contact.

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You are more likely to get afloat frequently if you can get to the boat within 30 minutes from home

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