Looking for a Green sport with life time benefits? Try sailing!

It’s often said that there are 3 types of people:

1. Those who make things happen

2. Those who watch things happen and,

3. Those who wonder what happened…

The thing is, you don’t make it into the first group without a bit of training and discipline. Being proactive and having the ability to get things done has to become a habit – sailing is a good way to develop that habit.

Sailing has never really been a part of the sports offering at the majority of schools in South Africa. Boys tend to be directed to cricket, rugby, soccer, hockey as well as athletics, swimming, water polo and tennis whilst girls typically play hockey, tennis, squash, water polo and netball. However, a really good question to ask is how many people keep playing these school sports once they leave school?

World-wide, obesity is on the increase and as a nation, South Africans are getting fatter. Doing sport as opposed to watching it is a good way to becoming healthier. For a parent, one of the greatest gifts that you can give your child is introducing him / her to a sport that he / she wants to do for the rest of his / her life….especially when that sport is not only healthy, but also environmentally friendly and teaches invaluable life lessons.

Sailing really is a cradle to grave pastime. Some people are, literally, born on yachts while many keep sailing until well into their 80s. Long-term friendships develop from shared interests – it’s quite normal for friends to keep sailing together for 30 or more years.

Sailing as a sport, pastime or career

Sailing SydneyIn many ways, being on the water is the ultimate freedom. There are no speed restrictions – you can go as fast as your ability and the weather allows – and, unless you are racing on a set course, there are few reasons why you should head in any direction except the one you feel like at the time. For a child or teenager still too young to qualify for a car driver’s licence, the responsibility involved in steering and being in control of a yacht without adult supervision; is empowering, liberating and a great way of maturing quickly.

Many people that sail never race. Using a sailboat as a way to explore coastlines and harbours, or even cross oceans, is quite sufficient. For those that do want to compete, the Olympic Games, Americas Cup and Volvo Ocean Race could be ultimate goals.

Sailing - MedThere are also many jobs available for boys and girls around the world for those looking to pursue a career or gap year that will give them an outdoor lifestyle, excitement and travel opportunities.

Sailing – a Green sport

Sailors tend to be in tune with their environment – the effects of climate change, pollution, etc. are more noticeable on the ocean than on a sports field. There is no greater thrill than being powered by nature’s elements. While it’s important that we have young people that carry the environmental torch, there will also be a growing number of opportunities for Green entrepreneurs – by participating in sailing, children will be more aware of the challenges, the need to do something about them and potential to make a career in the process.

Sailing’s life lessons

Lessons that children can learn whilst enjoying being out on the water include:

· Decision making

Good sailors understand that the faster you make a decision, the sooner you can correct it if it’s proven to be wrong. A decision could mean opting for a particular side of the race course, choosing to set a different sail, perhaps experimenting with different people doing different roles on the boat.

In business, it is often easier for a manager to stop a new initiative than have the courage to sign it off – you’re less likely to get fired for maintaining the status quo than trying something new. Of course, this approach results in the company stagnating and, eventually becoming uncompetitive – the manager will probably end up becoming redundant in any case….

Also, a lot of managers don’t objectively track the results of their decisions. By contrast, a good sailor will always be monitoring his progress to see if a particular decision had a good or bad outcome. Getting used to being proven wrong and taking quick corrective action is a useful life skill.

· Resilience

Sailing is a sport of eliminating mistakes rather than brilliance. You have to manage your equipment and team, make the best use of the weather and wind shifts and use the waves and currents to your advantage. It’s tremendously complex and fulfilling as a result. Having the strength of mind to acknowledge when you’ve made a mistake and to bounce back from it, without going into a panic and changing all the things that brought you success in the past, will stand you in good stead for life, which is invariably tough and confusing.

An important aspect of sailing is that you can’t just stop when you’re tired or conditions are unfavourable or rough. Children as young as 10 get caught in gales and they are forced to decide to deal with it or have a thoroughly unpleasant time. Most choose to make the best of the situation and actually learn how to relish pushing their limits of endurance and achievement.

· Leadership, teamwork and communication

Yachts are incredibly confined spaces. Depending on the size and focus of the boat, there could be anything from 1–30 people on-board – as you can imagine, getting large crews to work as a team requires leadership. Moreover, the confined space means that you need to work with other personalities that might not gel well with your own – you can’t simply ignore the problem.

Successful sailing crews have well defined roles and clear communication about what is going to happen next. Not everyone takes a leadership role and not everyone contributes to every decision. Part of the team is responsible for making sure the yacht heads in the chosen direction while others ensure that each manoeuvre is performed correctly. The key things are that people are empowered to do their jobs, they understand how they contribute to the overall goal, and they are able to provide feedback to enable the whole team to learn and improve.

In “real life”, it’s important to be able to move in and out of leadership roles – sometimes you call the shots, other times you are part of the team implementing the decisions. One of the best bowmen (one of the “workers” on a race boat) I have sailed with is Mark Sadler, who was also skipper of Shosholoza, South Africa’s first entry into the Americas Cup. On Shosholoza, Mark was the main decision maker, carrying the hopes of our nation in the world’s most important sailing competition. However, during a race in Cape Town, Mark was also modest enough to be bowman on a friend’s yacht – he did a fantastic job and was as focused as he would be as skipper, even if he wasn’t in a decision making role.

How to get involved?

Sailing - SunsetThere are sailing schools in South Africa’s main centres (Cape Town, Durban, Gauteng) and yacht clubs throughout the country, some of whom also have sail training programs.

There is a perception that it is extremely expensive and it is true that it can be costly to buy and run a large yacht. However, sailing dinghies (generally boats under 6m) and small catamarans can be available for a few thousand rand and, once you have developed some skills, there are usually people who already own yachts that are looking for crew, both here in South Africa and abroad. If you’re reliable, keen to learn, easy to get on with and reasonably fit you should have no problem finding a sailing team to join.

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