Our new chief instructor spills the beans on family sailing holidays in Brancaster and rubbing shoulders with Ben Ainslie…
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know how to sail. I come from a family of sailors and as a small child spent most weekends bimbling about in Oppies, Mirrors and Toppers at Papercourt Sailing Club in Surrey. Our family holidays were shaped around sailing; we had a caravan at Brancaster, Norfolk, and I have many happy memories of our summers there with a motorboat, some dinghies, a picnic and the dog. It was all about being on the water.
One of my proudest moments was sailing across the Solent, aged eight. It was blowing a force 5-6 as we set off in our Oppies, amid the tankers, from Ryde in the Isle of Wight to Stokes Bay in Hampshire. There weren’t so many safety concerns back then! It was a big achievement for me, as to begin with I hadn’t been very confident in the Oppie. I was too scared to sit on the side and terrified of capsizing – until I actually did, and realised that it really wasn’t too bad.
I’m not the most competitive sailor, but I’ve always enjoyed racing. I remember taking part in the Hayling Island sailing week, aged about eight, and being at the back of the fleet with a friend – just singing songs! We were far more into that. As a teenager, I raced in a Laser against Ben Ainslie. He had yet to become an Olympian, of course, but I remember standing next to him at the prize-giving when they read out his name as a winner.
I was 13 when I started teaching people to sail. It was a natural evolution. I was at Papercourt every weekend and began helping out on the Bryan Willis sailing courses, later working over my Easter holidays and progressing from assistant to group leader and chief instructor. I then studied applied marine sports science at Plymouth University, spending my summers teaching at Queen Mary Sailing Club in Middlesex. A gap year at Queen Mary’s led to a full-time job there, followed by three years as chief instructor and seven as the club’s sailing manager.
I recently spent a summer in Iceland, instructing at the Reykjavik Sailing Club. They translated my job title as ‘head of the ocean’, which I rather liked! We took a team to the Nordic Junior Championships in Sweden, to represent Iceland – six students, sailing Oppies and Lasers.
It’s an exciting time for HRCST, with so many local schools on board and the Trevassack Lake project gaining momentum. I very much want to be part of the scene. My role as Chief Instructor is to support our instructors, making sure that they’re properly qualified and trained, and to build relationships with parents and carers so that they know they can entrust us with their children. I also want to offer opportunities for teenage sailors to develop teaching skills, because they’re the future of instructing.
There’s a real sense of adventure about sailing and kayaking on the Helford River. There are so many different nooks and crannies to explore, and different beaches where we can hide from the elements if we need to. It’s a great place to learn and to develop an appreciation of the sea.
I’ve taught many children to sail, but it’s always rewarding to see them progress. Sailing can take a child out of their comfort zone, helping them to overcome personal challenges and rewarding them for perseverance – just like me as the eight-year-old, crossing the Solent. There’s nothing like it for developing independence and enjoying a sense of freedom. I can’t wait to be out on the water.