Learning to sail in the heart of London

The first time I went to sailing was on holiday in Barcelona, and the experience blew me away. I was instantly eager to learn more about this exciting sport.

When I returned to the UK, I searched for local centres that offer Royal Yachting Association (RYA) courses in learning how to sail.

It looks like an easy, relaxing kind of pursuit, but actually requires a lot of skill. The learning curve is a steep one, and you will end up in the water if you’re not careful. That’s why life jackets are essential and being a confident swimmer is a good idea.

Tipping a sailing dinghy over isn’t hard if the weight in the boat isn’t distributed evenly, and strong winds can also punish poorly executed manoeuvres. But when a crew are all playing their part successfully, controlling the jib, boom or the rudder, it’s an immensely rewarding experience.

Finding a sailing club

You can use the RYA website to find your nearest location for sailing lessons. The closest to me in London is the Docklands Sailing and Watersports Centre which offers training from levels 1-3. A course which enables you to complete the first two levels costs £400.

Based in the old docks of East London and overlooked by the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf, it’s certainly a memorable setting in which to take to the water.

It took a whole weekend to complete level 1, where you begin sailing and learn the basics. Level 2 also takes up a weekend and develops all the techniques to keep you safe whilst being alone on a boat.

I spoke to level 3 qualified Shams, who has been sailing for two years and uses it as a “break from life”.

He told me: “I go sailing every week to reflect and have time alone. It’s a sport that I love, and I  hope to one day travel the world by sail.

“I also found the levels a great way to be introduced to the sport, and they help you feel more comfortable out on your own.”

The challenges

The most challenging aspect of learning to sail is having full control of the dinghy regardless of the weather and other craft around you.

When learning in the UK, it’s especially advisable to avoid ending up overboard too often, unless you’re lucky enough to have really hot weather.

Learning all different parts of your boat, what they do and how to use them, is also demanding, and it’s also why most people sail as part of a crew rather than alone.

But the training is all worth it when the wind is at its strongest and your dinghy is zipping across the water at speed. As long as your feel in control and know what you’re doing, it’s an exhilarating sensation.

Learning the basics also gives you a great insight into the phenomenal talents of the greatest sailors, such as Ben Ainslie and Ellen MacArthur.

To do what they have achieved needs incredible skill and bravery, but everyone has to start somewhere and for me it was on the Isle of Dogs in the heart of London.