As a teen, my family lived in Germany in a village called Bruggen close to the border with Holland.
There are two versions of how I got into dinghy sailing and I don’t remember which was the real one…
Although my memory is getting a little hazy, I have a vague recollection of my dad suggesting I try out dinghy sailing.
I think that one of his work colleagues, Steve Bailes, was involved in running a RYA dinghy sailing course at the nearby inland lakes at Roermond which was across the border between Germany and Holland.
This was the mid-late 80s and the UK military (RAF and Army) has a big presence in the area as the Cold War with Russia was in full flow.
The lakes were big. More than ample to sail in a dinghy, windsurfer or yacht.
I took to sailing quickly and enjoyed the course. As well as Steve, the head of 6 form at my school was also involved in the course. Des Lacklison was his name and I remember he was a brilliant bloke. In fact Steve and Des both were. (I believe that Des is still living in a house just outside the school. I’m not sure about Steve though. Would very much like to find out.)
Version 2 – I have an even vaguer recollection that my introduction to sailing may have come about from a school residential trip run by Des and his sidekick, Ian Barron, where I, as a very shy teenager, came out of my shell and stood out for some reason. Des suggested that I may enjoy dinghy sailing and as an active member of the sailing club at Roermond spoke to my parents to get their permission for me to get involved.
Having written both versions of history, I suspect version 2 is correct.
Anyway, having completed the 5 day course which was held in term time (thanks to Des’ involvement, that didn’t appear to be a problem), I would regularly cycle to the lakes to sail. Although we’d learned in the Bosun class dinghy, I loved to sail the single-hander Laser dinghy. This was, and still is, an Olympic class racing machine. I dreamed about owning one one day… but never did.
Sailing was a passion. I bought books about it (years before you could order online from Amazon or read instantly on your kindle or google for information), had posters of Lasers on my bedroom wall and couldn’t wait for my next opportunity to get on the water. I can remember ordering a made to measure wetsuit at a time when buying one off the shelf at your local ALDI wasn’t an option.
As well as dinghy sailing, I got interested in windsurfing and did that quite a lot. With little upper body strength it was a challenge but I was ok at it. (My last windsurfing adventure also ended in disaster. I was on a group holiday in my mid/late 20s somewhere like Faliraki and hired a windsurfer, knackered myself out and got blown out to sea before being rescued! What an adventure!)
As well as racing dinghies, I also helped out at training courses held at the lakes and loved the sport with a passion.
I don’t remember how old I was but I sailed for my school in a Topper dinghy on a river and got a medal which I still have.
When i returned to the UK to study Electrical and Electronic Engineering in South Wales, I had every intention of continuing to sail and at the Polytechnic’s (that’s what some universities were called when it was fashionable to have further education that was more vocational than academic) freshers fair, I sought out the sailing club and signed up. My first sail with the club, the most unfriendly bunch of individuals you can imagine, put me off sailing for years and I didn’t sail again until I left higher education several years later.
At some point in my 20s or early 30s, I went on some kind of racing or advanced dinghy sailing course at Port Solent. We were sailing Toppers or Lasers I believe and I loved it. However, the cost of joining a club and needing my own dinghy was prohibitive and I didn’t pursue the sport of Dinghy Sailing again.
However, that didn’t keep me off the water. For a few years, I regularly crewed on a work colleague’s yacht and competed in both Cowes Week and the Round The Island Race on a handful of occasions. The latter was a long, long day and a true test of endurance. That work colleague, Andy H, is now my boss and a really decent bloke.
Earlier this week, my eldest son Daniel got the opportunity to go dinghy sailing as part of the scout group he attends. We headed down to Royal Victoria Country Park and met up with the rest of the group. I was more than a little jealous that he was getting to go out on the water and hoped that he’d enjoy sailing with two of his friends in the Wayfarer. It just so happens that he did and he wanted to go again.
Fortunately, locally there’s a club called the St Denys Boat Club, http://www.stdenysboats.co.uk, that’s been established on the river close to Bitterne Triangle since 1890 or thereabouts. After paying £110 for the membership and having your skills assessed you can be signed off to take out one of their ‘boats’ 365 days a year. The boats include kayaks, stand up paddle boards and a range of dinghies including a Laser. I booked a tour of the club and Daniel and I went down to take a look. The club’s chairman, James, was very friendly and we couldn’t believe how brilliant the club was.
Having spoken to Denise I filled out the membership form and am eagerly awaiting the opportunity to get signed off and back out on the water. Although I’m a couple of stones heavier than the last time I sailed and 20-30 years older, I feel fit enough to give it a go and the practical and theoretical skills are still fairly fresh in my mind.
To be continued…