Living in London, it can often be hard to track down a sailing expert. Overhearing my complaints, Jamie, a member of the Whatuni outreach team, chimed up telling me his sister would do an interview. Thinking it was another one of Jamie’s awful jokes, I responded by politely explaining we needed an expert, only to be pleasantly surprised when he told me Anna had represented England in both the European and World Championships and is now a sailing coach. Down to earth, friendly and more than happy to help, Anna is every part the expert I was looking for. If you’ve ever been inspired to set sail and learn something new, this is a lady worth listening to.
So Anna, how did you get to where you are today? Have you always been interested in sailing?
I am where I am today because of a lot of fun, hard work, cold toes and long hours. Sailing has been a part of mine and my family’s life since I was little and it was a sport which I could participate in and actually do OK in.
Sailing started out as a hobby, a summer holiday activity; a chance to soak up some sun while pottering about in small dinghy in the Mediterranean. It then progressed, quite naturally, into racing and competing. I was part of a youth squad which trained every month, competed throughout the year and I also had the opportunity to represent my country in European and World championships. This experience has been invaluable to me as an instructor because I am now not only able to teach the basics, I am also able to go into a lot more depth with my instruction. Also, I am now able to coach the new generation of racers as I have been in their shoes before and managed to pick up some gems of knowledge along the way. I have, despite my moaning on snowy winter days, always loved sailing!
What qualifications did you need to get your job?
I did my RYA Assistant Instructors (this is not compulsory) at 15, which gave me an insight into what is required to become an RYA Dinghy Instructor (DI). Being able to shadow qualified instructors and pick up their knowledge as well as their teaching style was invaluable. It showed me what I did and didn't want to be as an instructor!
At 17, I then did my DI course. This is the basic qualification required to instruct RYA courses independently. In order to complete your DI you also need your RYA powerboat level 2, as well as a first aid course. It's also very useful to have experience. The more experience an individual can get; the better their prospects are for getting a job. I also have a catamaran endorsement which enables me to instruct RYA catamaran courses.
What made you want to turn sailing into a career, rather than just a hobby?
For me, the idea that I can teach people the sport I love and have had so much enjoyment out of is amazing. In my mid teens, my competing had slowed down and school work had taken over, so I needed to do something to fill my school holidays. Instructing is something that gets me out on the water, in a boat, teaching people who are either beginners, or wanting to improve existing skills. Being an instructor also gave me the fantastic opportunity to continue travelling and allowed me to earn at the same time. I've been lucky enough to work in Menorca and Greece because of my career choice.
What is the most enjoyable part of your job?
The best part of my job is watching people who you have taught over the years come down to the local sailing club for a sail, or book onto another sailing holiday because they have 'caught the bug'! It sounds corny, but seeing people develop a passion for something which has consumed your life for so many years is infectious. It makes you re-evaluate the privileges you've had growing up and makes your passion for the job that much stronger.
What is the most challenging part?
The cold. If you want to become a sailing instructor you have to be prepared to get wet and cold! Long days in the boat park or on the water when it’s snowing are not for the faint hearted, (but it is worth the cold toes!) It's also very difficult to remain patient. Learning a new, very alien skill is not easy, so it's hard to sympathise with people and also see their struggles from their point of view.
In your experience, what do beginners struggle with most when learning to sail?
Wind awareness. A lot of sailing is about feeling, knowing where the wind is coming from and also how to manoeuvre your boat accordingly is something which takes time and practice. Therefore, for beginners to grasp that concept straight away is a rarity. Oh and the difference between the words, 'towards' and 'away', as well as, 'push' and 'pull'! As soon as a beginner understands those words, then learning to sail is plain sailing (excuse the pun!)
How long, or how many lessons do most students need before they are qualified to sail on their own?
So most RYA centres in the UK require a person to obtain at least a Stage 4 (for youth) or Level 2 (Adults) RYA sailing certificate before they are able to hire a dinghy from their centres. A Level 2 course is normally combined with a Level 1 course, so the minimum days required to complete this is four. Although not illegal/against the rules to buy and boat and go sailing without any formal training, it is not advised as it is not a risk free sport and accidents can happen.
Have you ever had any scary moments in your sailing career?
When working as the children's coordinator at a sailing centre in the Mediterranean, I watched two of my instructors capsize a boat with six 8-9 year olds in it! It was a force 3-4 and they were going downwind with the spinnaker up! That was fairly scary, but thankfully everyone was fine and all thought it was very funny.
Does learning in a dingy give you the skills needed to sail a bigger boat?
It definitely gives you the basic skills. There are many transferable skills, such as wind awareness, the concept of turning your boat through or away from the win, and also parts of the boat. However, they are still very different and therefore experience and possible another course will be needed to improve and develop these specific skills.
It's almost like someone learning to ride a motorbike, gives you specific skills which you need to be able to drive a car however, there are differences which will require more specific instruction.
What advice would you give to someone hoping to follow in your footsteps and learn how to sail?
Do it! It's been the best thing I've done! Many centres run taster sessions, so if you're interested, then give one of these a go. It is a fantastic sport which gives you the opportunity to get away from reality, get lots of fresh air and also meet some very welcoming and kind individuals. The sailing world is fairly small, so everyone treats you like family!
Don't be put off by the cold; there are plenty of fantastic holiday companies who offer sailing lessons in much warmer climates. It will be hard work, but the reward at the end is worth the grapple at the start!
If Anna has persuaded you to dig out your warm clothing and get ready to set sail, take a look at the options listed on the site. Whether you’re a complete beginner or a professional looking to brush up your skills, we’ve got what you are looking for.