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Keelboat Instructor coarse

Did you think it was just the ability to sail?


What it takes to become a Keelboat Instructor!

Did you think it was just the ability to sail?


Five of us and Ed from Noss Marine Academy have been finding out.


We're refilling our pool of instructors to make sure Dart Sailability is always ready to teach members, new and established, the nuances of sailing. We need Keelboat instructors because we use the Sonar racing 7 metre keelboat, and the Hansa 303 boats that look very like tiny dinghies, but are miniature keelboats. We also have the Hawk 20, a boat that has a heavy metal centreplate and behaves far more like a keelboat than a dinghy.

Bob, our Chief Sailing Instructor for the past several years, has asked Anna, Ian H, Julie, Keith C and Tim to put themselves into the field of fire, and we've been joined by Ed to make us a round half dozen. Secretly we're trying to recruit Ed as a volunteer, too, but its a secret, Don't tell him!

Each of us has a different set of sailing experiences, a different background and a different level of boat competence. We range from a couple who tried out for their home nation's respective olympic sailing teams far more years ago that either cares to recall (neither were selected!), experienced offshore racers, club racers, hairy, scary dinghy sailors (the dinghies, not the sailors... Hmmm, actually I'm not so sure about that with a certain moustache....). We have a lapsed senior dinghy instructor, an existing and experienced dinghy instructor, a lapsed dinghy instructor, a fireball sailor, perhaps two, a cruising yachtsman who's never been on a sailing dinghy in anger, at least one powerboat instructor, people who've helmed and crewed on trapeze balanced dinghies, someone who's capsized an International 10 Square Metre Canoe a lot in the middle of Lake Windermere, a Finn sailor, a Flying Dutchman sailor, a Tornado sailor, so quite a skills portfolio. If you count carefully you will see more than six. Yes, some have done more than one thing!


There are two hurdles to leap before being allowed to take the course. Hurdle one is the RYA's safeguarding course. It's online, and common sense, but it's also multiple choice, and you only get two goes. Luckily Dart Sailability gives us a good concept already on safeguarding, so it's just a case of extending it to include those under 18 as a very special case. It's as much about protecting ourselves and Dart Sailability as it is about safeguarding young people and vulnerable adults. The RYA's Disability Awareness course we all take covers some of the same ground, but in a different manner.


Hurdle two is the pre-assessment. This is a day with a very grown up RYA person who decides whether the candidate is actually as competent as the centre putting them forward thinks they are. All six of us had to prove, or not, our competence at the core tasks we will be trained to teach. Not passing that gives rise to a discussion about whether the candidate should go forward to the course proper.


For this it's essential to be able to demonstrate manoeuvres simple and complex.

Simple is the correct RYA method of tacking, gybing, understanding the five essentials:


• Sail Set – do we have it right for the wind direction?

• Trim – fore and aft, are we too bow or too stern heavy? Why does it matter?

• Balance – is the boat being sailed as flat as possible for the conditions? Do we use it to control steering?

• Centreboard – we don't have one except on the Hawk, so can we explain the theory?

• Course Made Good – do we sail the best and shortest distance from where we are to where we want to be?


Complex are manoeuvres to come back alongside, to pick up a mooring, to know how to slow the boat down, and to pick up a crew member (we use a weighted buoy, not a real crew member) who has fallen overboard.

So we need to know how to sail almost instinctively before we're taught how to pass those skills on to novices.


And that has given even the most experienced of us pause for thought! So we've been practicing on our Sonars to do our best to refine our skills and those of our colleagues so we can pass the pre-assessment. Well, all except Keith C, that is. He had a prior engagement trying to swim round the island of Crete. And not on Monday 16th October, when we were hit by the remains of Hurricane Ophelia. We could have sailed in the wind, heavily reefed, and it would have been great experience, but pointless in the global scheme of things. Besides, it was too close to the course itself to risk gear failures.

Tim was watching the developing weather over the weekend and kept the gang informed with the probability of cancelling top of his mind. He even went up river to check the moorings of all the Dart Sailability boats, Sonars, Farries Flyer, and all the vessels moored on the Noss Marina pontoons for the winter during the Sunday morning. He waited until the late afternoon and checked weather sources: