Tag Archives: Sailing


There’s a funny thing about teachers and the summer holidays.  Everywhere you go, there they are.  Once, just before I took up my place on a PGCE, I witnessed an off-duty teacher being excitedly greeted in the ferry waiting area in Portsmouth.  There I was, playing a hilarious game of cards, the rules of which I can no longer remember, with a friend who was very evilly good at it, and the nice looking woman at the next table was positively mobbed.  I’ve never been spotted when I’ve been on my holidays; it’s only when I am chasing my own children around the swimming pool trying to get them out and exhausted by the effort of holding my stomach in that some little voice pops up to say hello, no, I’m usually unmasked by my fellow adults.

There is always a certain reluctance to admit who you are when you are a teacher on holiday.  For a start, you are never quite sure what kind of reaction you are going to get.  Everybody has an opinion, you see, and pretty much everyone wants the holidays.  When you are a teacher in the months of July and August, and someone asks you what you do, you tend to answer in a quiet voice.  Until, that is, you discover that you are chatting to another one (at which point there is a general sigh of relief and the conversation swings to education politics and the husband and the children roll their eyes and sigh).

It happened the other day, when we were on holiday.  In a fit of enthusiasm and ‘wouldn’t that be a great way to spend our next holiday and wouldn’t the kids love it’ we booked ourselves a day out on a 32ft yacht and it turns out the skipper, in  his former life, was a teacher.  And a teacher of SEN no less.

It was all going so well.  The sun was shining.  The wind had stopped blowing a gale.  We had cheese sandwiches and crisps and the children were excited.  Until we started heading out to sea, that is.

There is something I never realised about the bit where the river actually meets the sea.  I never realised it was quite so lumpy.  I also never realised, when you are on a yacht, and especially a small one, how close you are to the water.  How the waves and the spray and the movement and the bigness of it all is all so immediate.  I never realised how silent it is when the engine goes off and the sails take over and the boat responds and leans with the wind and lurches into the water.

How Sam would be so afraid.

Now I know that I write about how he’s bolshie and full of his own ideas of what he should do and when, but to be honest with you, at home, he is generally a very compliant child.  Given the time to respond and a kind voice, he usually does as he’s told.  And, he does like to please you.  He’ll say yes if he knows it’ll make you smile.  He’s not very good at saying how he really feels.  So when he said he’d like to go on a big boat, and we showed him the picture, we didn’t give it a second thought.

We didn’t think that there might be another interpretation to his behaviour on boats.  We didn’t think that those moments when he looked down and seemed absorbed in the moment, he was actually deeply uncomfortable with the situation. We soon found out that telling him to look at the shore really didn’t help.

Poor old Sam.  He lost his breakfast about five times, burst into tears, shouted at daddy and may have even kicked him a couple of times, such was his distress.  It wasn’t long before we turned and headed back to the safety of the estuary.

Some people would have been cross with Sam.  Some people would have had him off that boat as soon as I had cleaned up the sick.  Some people would have looked at our son, red faced and tear streaked and washed their hands of him.  But some people have seen it all before.

Some people are more than happy to wait until a seasick child has recovered their composure and spend some time to make a boy with learning difficulties feel positive about his experience.

Thank you, Jon, for a lovely day.  It didn’t quite turn out as we had planned, but, like much of our lives, was not to be missed.  Not for a moment.

If you fancy a day out, I would highly recommend Salcombe Sailing Days.

Sailing Close to the Wind

We started sailing by mistake, husband and I.  We’d been camping in Cornwall, watching people hopping in and out of boats and thought what a lovely way to spend a summer holiday. Before we knew it we were signed up on a Level 1 sailing course.  It soon morphed into Level 2, followed swiftly by our own dinghy.  Turns out that big boats aren’t as much fun (or as cheap) as the little ones.  It was a bit like the time when we thought it would be a nice idea to take the bikes on holiday and ended up cycling across the Scottish Highlands, and camping on the way.

We never got good enough to win anything (apart from some mugs and rather nasty hats as the award for travelling the furthest to an open meeting), but, after a week’s holiday-with-tuition in Spain one Easter, we weren’t too bad.  We were getting good starts, and our enthusiasm and confidence was such that it didn’t seem to matter when we wrapped the spinnaker under the front of the boat after shooting off to the wrong end of the lake in a rather uncontrolled manner.

Unfortunately for me we were just getting the hang of it when we had a baby.  Pregnant sailing didn’t really do it for me, and babies and boats don’t really mix; not when you are as unpredictable as we are, anyway.  And these days we find we are so busy running around just trying to keep up with life that we barely have time to take a breath, let alone get out in a boat.

So, not so long ago, we had one of those conversations about whether or not to keep it or sell it.  And it turned out that we don’t want to give up on the dream just yet.  There’s nothing quite like hiking out on a sunny day, and, when we are at the club, I see the confidence in the young people as they pootle about on the water, turning their boats over and over, and I think to myself, ‘I want some of that for my kids’.

So, onto Ebay we did get, and, before you could say ‘Jack Robinson’ we bought them a boat.  It’s a great little thing (my dad is insisting on calling it HMS Bathtub) designed especially for kids and with stability in mind, and A, the boy who has been reading Swallows and Amazons well into the night is quietly delighted.  So delighted, in fact, that he was heard singing to himself all the way back from the purchase, rather than arguing with his brother, a miracle in itself.

There is a youth squad-thing at our club, but the kids all seem to be bigger than ours, and not exactly beginners, so, as you do, we thought we’d give teaching them ourselves a go.  We did a bit of googling, and reminded each other of how we got started.  All those years ago, our course began in a classroom where we were instructed on wind direction, points of sail and tacking and gybing.  We practiced leigh ho-ing and ready about-ing in a yard with a couple of chairs, a bit of rope and a broomstick that whacked you on the head when you weren’t expecting it.  We tied knots, bunnies went in and out of burrows, lefted over righted and righted over lefted.  Simple.  But, as husband has found, transferring knowledge from one adult brain to two little child brains doesn’t always work the way you expect.

Explaining the wind, for a start.  A seems to be getting the hang of it, what with all the Arthur Ransome stories playing non-stop through his imagination, but to L, who is only 8, and not so much of a reader, it is a bit of a mystery, this thing that you can’t see, but has the power to move you around all at will, and throw you in the cold, cold water if you aren’t on your guard.   We’ve had long discussions over how to explain it, and how much to tell, and we have both discovered that too much theory has them bored and they stop listening to life-saving information.  You can sneak an awful lot of weather awareness into the car journey, and, if you plant a few not-so-innocent seeds, you can get one child to explain it all to another without you having to do a thing.

And the difference between the two of them is immense.  A, at 11, and with so much reading filling his brain, is much quicker than the little one.  He is better at listening, and understanding the theory, has a more mature understanding of what he is aiming for.  He wanted to be off the long rope we brought with us so that we could haul them back in if they got into difficulties within five minutes.  She, three years his junior, needed reassuring that we wouldn’t let her go.

And Sam.  What are we going to do for him?  When you sail a boat, there is a surprising amount of things to co-ordinate.  There’s the tiller, which works the opposite way to the way you expect, ropes, booms, balance, and changing sides every time you tack or gybe. But he doesn’t like swapping sides, he gets tangled in ropes incredibly easily and is attracted, in a rather helpless manner, to Things He Shouldn’t Touch and Ropes He Shouldn’t Pull.  When you sail, you need your reactions to be quick.  You need to respond to the conditions, either the weather or other craft, or there will be consequences.  You’ll lose the race, or you’ll be swimming.  It’s been hard enough for the younger two.

But we’re not giving up.  To sail a boat is a most wonderful thing, and if we can find a way for him to experience the thrill, the excitement and the sense of achievement, we will.  We’ll practice on the other two first.  We’ll make our mistakes, we’ll pick the brains of the experts, find the best way to teach.  More importantly, we’ll get the conditions right.   We won’t start on a day when it’s blowing a hoolie.  We won’t take him out when he’s cold, or feeling poorly.  We’ll wait for a lovely sunny day with a steady breeze.  We’ll stay by his side as long as he needs us.  We won’t let him go before he knows what he’s doing.

We’ll watch him closely, our boy.  We’ll watch and see how he behaves when he is out with us.  Can he get out of the way, or will he sit still and cry when the boom hits him on the head?  Will he get across the boat quick sharpish, or will he stare, fascinated, at the water coming in over the side?  We won’t be putting him in that boat until he’s ready.  That would be sailing a little too close to the wind for comfort.

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For a post that relates to teaching, in a direct way, see here.