The Queen Mary Sailing Club, just west of London, is not quite Arthur Ransome territory but, with the wind in our hair, the smell of rubber from our wetsuits and the freedom we feel as the stresses of everyday life fall away, it is tonic enough. Emily has a deep-rooted knowledge of boats and can ‘sail a scow with my eyes shut’ from a lifetime of summers on the Isle of Wight. Her objective on our two-day sailing course is to transfer her skills to a modern dinghy. I have been on an estuary in Suffolk for precisely five afternoons, got my RYA1 certificate but I have no idea about wind direction and have zero intuition. Freddie, our instructor, seemed just as laid back as you might expect (quiet and unassuming, he gently drops into conversation
that he is a hot-shot record producer in his spare time). It was all rather surreal. The 700-acre expanse of water, an emergency reservoir belonging to Thames Water, is huge. There was no danger of our going aground or indeed hitting any other boat as we were the only lunatics out in this unseasonably poor weather. In fact, the first day there was only a gentle wind but still enough to begin ‘running’ across the water, tacking our way round our two-buoy course. At first Emily found the tiller extension (steering) a challenge; it’s the opposite of what you feel like doing but she soon got the hang of it and was looking like a pro. I did as instructed and tried to react to the wind direction: was I close reach or sailing
too close to the wind? Emily’s coaching on the side gave me the confidence I needed to ‘feel’ the wind and know where to steer. ‘It’s just like when you find the biting point when learning to drive,’ she says. As we picked up speed, adrenaline, coupled with a deep sense of being at one with nature, was our guide. It was only the penetrating cold that brought us to shore.
Queen Mary Sailing queenmary.org.uk 01784 248881