Cruise News

Go For It!

Go For It!

From 1 to 10 October 2021, Yachting New Zealand is joining Steering the Course: a worldwide festival to encourage women into sailing. I say: Go for it. 

By Rebecca Hayter

When I first stepped on a yacht at the age of 13, I was not impressed. Dad had bought a 32ft yacht. It was a yawl, which meant it had two masts, apparently. He took myself and a friend out on a hot, calm day in Nelson. I’d grown up on fishing boats and expected more of the same, but on the yacht everything was complicated. I stubbed my toes on deck fittings, bumped my head on booms and when the yacht heeled to the breeze, I thought, as do most novices, that we were tipping over.

Seriously? Can we go home now?

Plus, Dad was suddenly talking a strange language: tack, gybe, jib, halyard… 

But even if I didn’t immediately warm to sailing, sailing seemed determined to follow me. A friend from school took me out on a sailing dinghy in Kenepuru Sound, and I obediently pulled in the sail and eased it out on command. Well, that was fun, even though I didn’t understand that I was helping to make the boat point closer to the wind. I didn’t even know what that meant.

I moved to Wellington. A friend bought a 470 racing yacht; he hung me out on a trapeze as we stormed off at speed in Evans Bay. As we capsized, my asthmatic friend chose that moment to tell me he couldn’t swim. Then he got the boat upright, hauled me onboard and off we went again.

I was sailing in the Marlborough Sounds with Dad and the famous willi-waws nearly knocked us sideways, but Dad wasn’t scared so I wasn’t either.

I was starting to clock up a few experiences that were sort-of crazy at the time but afterwards I couldn’t wait to tell my friends. Before I knew it, I started looking forward to sailing.

Kids usually start sailing in dinghies, but people who start sailing later in life tend to start in keelers, ie, boats of around 8 metres or more which are permanently berthed in marinas or on moorings. Keelers are generally a more sedate type of sailing, well, that’s what we tell novices anyway.

In the early days, sometimes the biggest challenge is simply that stepping onto a yacht for the first time means stepping out of your comfort zone, which is why Steering the Course, designed specifically to get women into sailing, is a great opportunity to gain reassurance without feeling under pressure to perform.

First-time sailing also poses that age-old question that besets women everywhere: What do I wear? 

Good question. It pays dividends to get kitted up in the right gear. Go into a sailing dedicated outlet and ask for advice on what to get for your type of sailing. Always wear soft-soled, preferably white-soled, shoes so you don’t mark the decks and get a proper kit bag, not too big. 

And here are three reasons why it’s all worth it:

You can have some amazing experiences: like sailing a strip of moonlight through Tiritiri Matangi Channel as opera plays on the stereo, like buzzing along with the breeze and that little bubbly noise at the transom says you’re going fast, and like sailing into the Customs wharf of another country, knowing that you’ve just crossed an ocean. 

You learn a lot about yourself, and you learn a lot of new skills.

You make new friends. Honestly, it’s one of the best things about sailing;

To read a really crazy sailing adventure, Wild Seas to Greenland, visit my website