x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Rudderless boat, wet hair, fish and chips ... all in a day's sailing

Our Teen Life columnist tries sailing and ends up with a mouthful of brine.

Now that a gruelling school term has ended, it's finally time to plonk down the books and start enjoying our spring break. There seemed no better way to charge our batteries than a fun-filled day spent out at sea, taking out dinghies under the watchful eyes of a sailing instructor.

We always seem to be on the lookout for new, exciting ways to while away our time. It was relatively easy convincing our stingy financial backers to dish up the dosh for a sailing lesson because while they are by no means inexpensive, they are something you can collect fancy certificates for, endorsed by the Royal Yachting Association, and are therefore "educational".

I wouldn't be so keen on recommending them for those with weak stomachs. Having learnt from a couple of previous lessons I've taken, though, seasickness can be avoided by getting up at a ridiculously unearthly hour for holidays (8am) and giving your breakfast time to digest. Sailing is a relaxing sort of activity, because after managing to get thoroughly wet launching the boat, you can spend the next hour simply sitting and drifting waiting for your clothes to dry off and admiring the sparkling ripples on the water. By the time all the water's evaporated, though, it always happens to be late evening and it's time to dock, which means that you get wet all over again and have to change.

Confident in the assumption that I'd done this all before - three months ago - I didn't bother waiting for our instructor to help me rig up my Pico, and even dragged it down to sea and set sail feeling rather smug as my friends looked on. Perhaps no one likes a show-off but it's a good feeling being one all the same. As was bound to happen, though, my poorly-fixed rudder fell off before I'd barely left the shallow bit. Rather foolishly I didn't frantically grab at it immediately, thinking that I would do a 180-degree turn, pick it up, fix it back on again, and keep sailing, cool as a cucumber. This would have worked out very well but I'd forgotten one tiny thing: I couldn't do a 180 turn, or steer in any direction for that matter, without a rudder.

I ended up jumping out of the boat rather unceremoniously and paddling back to the safety of the shore, clutching the retrieved rudder, while my unfortunate boat drifted out to sea and had to be rescued by a rather irritated instructor. It turned out I hadn't rigged it up properly at all. I think it gave the instructor a vindictive pleasure to untangle the mess of ropes I had randomly forced through cleats and demonstrate how to do them again using my boat as the example. It would have been nicer if he hadn't opened this session with a raised eyebrow at my bedraggled dinghy and an acid "This, is how not to do it," but one lives and learns.

The wind was thankfully light, which was apparently "boring" but I wouldn't have been able to stomach going any faster - literally. We were all extremely dizzy after an hour of simply going round and round a fixed buoy in the middle of the sea, so we could perfect our tacking and jibing. It was a relief when our instructor called out a cheery "time for a break", but it turned out our "break" was learning what to do in an emergency situation if your boat capsizes.

The hardest bit was getting the boat to capsize. When it did flip over, I got stuck under the sail underwater, so ended up swallowing copious amounts of brine as I tried to hold my breath for about a minute. Swimming around fully clothed isn't a particularly agreeable experience but we all did manage to bring our boats back up again after some initial squealing and horrified cries of "my hair's getting wet!" Which, actually, has a pretty high probability of happening if you've voluntarily thrown yourself into the waters of the Arabian Gulf.

The rest of the day passed without incident, and we were presented with a lovely certificate. A steaming hot, hearty meal of fish and chips at the club restaurant wrapped up the course. Nature seemed to be celebrating with us: the usually snooty cats that wander around the sailing club ambled over and settled at our feet - though that might be due to the bits of fish Vanessa kept dropping as she wolfed down her haddock. All we needed really to complete our professional sailor vibe were some stripes and a mast tattoo; It's amazing how you get into the role so much better when you're safely on land.

The writer is a 15-year-old student in Dubai.