BOLTON Sailing Club in Belmont is set to open its doors for anyone to try this exciting sport. Reporter Elaine O’Flynn went along to learn the ropes.
AFTER spending the day fielding calls from prospective councillors, poring over planning documents and attending briefings with town hall officials, I was thoroughly looking forward to a blitz of country air and a spot of peaceful sailing.
But driving up to the Belmont Reservoir, tucked away in the valley, my images of lazily floating with beer in hand were quickly put to bed.
It was race night at Bolton Sailing Club, and dozens of industrious sailors were working away at their boats, preparing them for the timed contest ahead.
I met Rob Paul, the vice commodore of the club, and his wife Jill who quickly handed me a life jacket and got my boat ready for our expedition.
The club, founded in 1952, runs sessions four times a week, with about 400 members regularly getting their feet wet and taking to the water.
I’ll be honest: sailing, at first, seemed extremely technical. As Rob and Jill worked intuitively together to attach the pulleys, hook the ropes and lift the sails, I felt a little bit out of my depth.
They looked like they had been doing it for decades, but actually their passion for the hobby only started about 10 years ago, when Jill was stuck for a birthday present and bought Rob a sailing lesson.
After that, the whole family became hooked, and they and their two children are now regular sailors.
As Jill steadied the boat to let me in and — literally — show me the ropes, the boat’s mechanisms began to make sense.
I was given control of the jib, the sail at the front, which you manoeuvre by pulling one of two ropes at the front to keep it taut.
Being able to read the wind is a big part of the sport, as are quick reaction times — both in terms of making the most of any sudden changes in wind direction, and dashing across the boat to balance it off.
Adjusting the sails — don’t forget to duck — we picked up the wind and headed towards the island at the far end of the reservoir, where thousands of black-headed gulls reside in one of the UK’s largest colonies.
While practising steering with the tiller — a stick at the back of the boat — Jill told me how a recent £50,000 boost means the club will be able to extend its building in a bid to attract more members.
Sailing is often associated as a middle class sport for older men, a stereotype Bolton’s sailors are already challenging.
As well as having numerous female members, the club has a thriving junior section and owns a number of special, “unsinkable boats” kitted out so that disabled youngsters and adults can enjoy them.
As we chatted, disaster struck. The wind, already lacklustre, completely died, and Jill and I were left floating towards the birds’ colony in a scene that would vie for a spot in an Alfred Hitchcock movie.
I shouldn’t have worried, though. Thanks to Jill’s skillful direction and pumping — rocking the boat to make it move — we soon arrived safely back to shore.
It is safe to say I won’t be travelling around the world like Ellen MacArthur any time soon. But my short look into the world of sailing revealed a challenging, fun sport that will definitely blow away the cobwebs of anyone’s working week.
A big thank you to Jill, Rob and Bolton Sailing Club for their hospitality — I’ll see you soon.
• Free sailing taster sessions will take place between on Saturday, May 17, between 10am and 4pm. Visit www.sail.org.uk for more information about the open day, membership and training.