Introduction To Sailing

Does the idea of sailing appeal to you? Then let us introduce you to the sport and its different classes.

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Sailing uses of combination of technique, strategy, technology, strength and skill, making it one of the most challenging Olympic disciplines to master. Even if you are not setting your sights on competition, sailing is a sport to be taken seriously, even if just participating for leisure. The water is clearly no place to take risks with your safety, so anyone taking a craft out needs to have had proper instruction and be competent on the water.

Sailing in the Olympics

For many people, their first introduction to sailing comes from watching it at the Olympics. Sailing, or yachting to be more precise, first appeared at the Olympic Games in 1900, making it one of the oldest sports on the Olympic programme, where it has been ever present since its reintroduction in 1908. The sport’s name changed from ‘yachting’ to ‘sailing’ at the Sydney Games in 2000.

Over the years the classes of boats used in competition have varied and have changed with technological advances in the sport. Women have always been allowed to compete in sailing with men, but in 1988, separate sailing events were introduced exclusively for women. Windsurfing was also introduced as a sailing event at Los Angeles in 1984 and has been included ever since.

Olympic classes

The sport of sailing as it stands for the Olympic Games includes Windsurfing, Dinghy, Keelboat and Match racing. From these there will be 10 different classes competed in for 2012, with separate events for men and women. The classes are as follows:

Men’s events

  • RS:X – Men's Windsurfer/sailboard
  • Laser class – Men's One Person Dinghy
  • 470 class – Men's Two Person Dinghy
  • Star class – Men's Keelboat

Women’s events

  • RS:X – Women’s Windsurfer/sailboard
  • Laser Radial class – Women’s One Person Dinghy
  • 470 class – Women’s Two Person Dinghy
  • Keelboat – Women’s Match Racing

Mixed Events

  • Finn class – Heavyweight Dinghy Mixed
  • 49er class – Skiff Mixed

There are of course other class of craft outside of those which are used in the Olympics in which you can get involved in sailing, so don’t discount those. Sailing craft evolve over time meaning that the sport itself evolves all the time too.  

Dinghy sailing

Dinghy sailing is fun, fast and wet! It’s a hugely popular water sport — there are millions of sailors dedicated to dinghy sailing across the globe. It’s not hard to understand why the sport is so popular, as there is nothing quite like the feeling of hanging off the side of a dinghy racing across the water on a clear summer’s evening — it must be one of the best stress-busters around.

Different people get different thrills out of sailing. Many love the excitement of racing and the training and tactics that go with it, while others simply enjoy the peace and tranquility of sailing independently.

The dinghies themselves come in various shapes and sizes, but the principles of sailing them are essentially the same. The best way to learn is in fairly stable two-person dinghies or in a small single-handed dinghy. Once you get to grips with the basics, the possibilities are endless; you could start racing, move on to fast performance dinghies or catamarans, or transfer your skills over to yachting.

Health and fitness benefits of dinghy sailing

Dinghy sailing is great for the mind and the body, with the following fitness benefits:

  • The chance to build arm and leg muscles, with the demands of hanging off the side of a boat.
  • Improving balance and concentration to stay safely on course.
  • Developing hand-eye coordination when steering the boat.
  • Refreshing and clearing the mind with the combination of sea air and water.

How to get involved

Getting started in sailing is incredibly easy, though much depends on your proximity to the coast or some decent inland waterways. Courses are usually thorough, so you’ll learn everything you need to know to get out on the water safely.

The RYA are a globally recognised body who offer courses “to prepare you for anything from taking your first trip out of the marina to living on board, cruising along the coast or venturing further offshore.” They also equip professional skippers for the exams needed to gain an RYA/MCA Certificate of Competence.

Practical skills course examples include a Level 1 Start Sailing Course for complete beginners which will provide you with a basic understanding of yacht handling under sail and relevant background knowledge over the 16 hours course.

You could progress onto Level 2 Basic Skills Course over 16 hours of instruction which will equip you with the skills to sail a yacht as crew and helm with a skipper on board in light winds, and then progress onto some of the Cruising Course options.

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