Learning the Ropes

Getting children out, enjoying time on the water and encouraging boating are among the aims of the Glendowie Boating Club (GBC), which is located at the mouth of the Tamaki River between Glendowie and Glen Innes, and close to St Heliers.

The club door is open on Sundays from September to May for families and young people who think they may be interested in sailing. “Come along and have a look around,” says GBC’s current commodore, Richard Beauchamp. “If you’re keen on sailing, pop down on a club sailing day with your mum or dad or caregiver and say hello. Someone will show you around and help with the next steps, which might be enrolling in a learn-to-sail course.”

These days the club’s main focus is on learners, although there are a few cruising members – older salts – who use club facilities to access their yachts on moorings on the Tamaki River. The club recognises that its future is through retaining young sailors to keep the club going across the generations.

The club runs a variety of programmes and events for new and more experienced sailors throughout the season. Young sailors in the making are encouraged to join learn-to-sail groups and, when they are ready, they can move on to Sunday sailing days, competitive club and interclub racing events and regattas.  

In the learn-to-sail groups, experienced club instructors coach aspiring young sailors on the water every Sunday while more experienced sailors enjoy coaching after school on weekdays during the season, and participate in club racing on Sundays to show off their skills.

 “You’d be surprised how quickly children and adults pick up the basics of sailing. Typically, our learn-to-sail kids are in a dinghy on their own – with coach boats close at hand – soon after arriving for their first lesson. It’s a matter of steering and pulling on a rope. Of course, that’s only the beginning of an exciting future of sailing where choosing a course (steering) becomes more strategic and trimming (pulling on the rope, or mainsheet) becomes more technical. 

“GBC’s objectives are for sailors to be safe and have fun. We offer a mix of club racing and adventure sailing, so there is something for everyone. Our sailors often do well at national events in recent years, so we are eager to provide a good racing programme and strong coaching for those keen to be competitive and hone their sailing skills,” Richard says. 

Sailing should be fun as well as competitive, and members are encouraged to sail with their mates. “Teens often come down to the club at high tide with their friends and do a bit of sailing in the afternoon over the weekend. With our increasingly busy lives the focus often seems to be on racing, but mucking around and having fun is equally important,” he says.

GBC is keen to encourage the wider community to get involved in sailing. It takes time and commitment to learn, but the club is there to help sailors grow in confidence and experience.

“Sailing is a wonderful sport; young people learn resilience. Young sailors need to be fit and strong, but they also have to be aware of what is going on around them, and tactics play a big part in winning a race. You may have a bad start, but that’s not the end; you can still come back. There may be wind shifts or tide movements and kids learn these things and how they can still do well. It’s inspiring to see them learn and realise what they can do – the maturity they gain, and their respect for the sea, for the adults helping them and for each other, boys and girls, getting on together as sailors.

“Kids and parents make friends for life, learn amazing skills, learn about the sea and weather, about boats and sailors. Most of all the kids learn to be patient, resilient and adaptable, and become thoughtful, respectful members of the community.”

Founded in 1949 by servicemen and women who had returned from the Second World War, the location at the mouth of the Tamaki River offers good sailing for a family-oriented club, even when other Auckland waters may be too exposed. 

Currently, GBC has about 80 family memberships, with around 60 or so keen sailors and would-be sailors out on the water each weekend. About a third are new members, in the training fleet and using club boats, while the others use their own boats and enjoy the regular events and competitions.

With the America’s Cup coming to town, and being sailed reasonably close to the GBC, now is as good a time as any to get involved in sailing. And of course, like any sport, the more you know about it, the more you are likely to enjoy watching the big events.

When’s the right time to start sailing?

Very young sailors can team up with older, more skilled sailors in two-handed boats and experience sailing safely that way. Otherwise the club encourages new sailors to be around 10 years of age. “It’s quite a thing to be in charge of your own boat, and it can be challenging for anyone much younger,” Richard says.

As they improve, they progress through pathways that include bigger boats; they may start in an Optimist, before moving to a P-class, then to Starling, or perhaps move from an Optimist to a BIC O’pen and on to a two-handed RS Feva. These are just the junior classes of yacht.

Safety for young sailors

Everyone going on the water wears a life jacket, and there are always safety boats nearby for coached sessions and on club sailing days. Sailors learn to capsize safely and, most importantly, when they should stay ashore, for example, if the weather is bad.  

Costs of sailing – time and money

The club runs holiday programmes that offer everything needed to start sailing and offers discounts on future club membership.

Young sailors can start off in a club-owned, rainbow-coloured training Optimist, and when they are ready, typically after half a season, buy a boat of their own, usually second-hand. There are often plenty of boats for sale around the country as sailors outgrow pre-loved dinghies and sell them to fund their next boat.

Many club families live locally, a five-minute walk or drive away from the clubhouse, with the young sailors attending nearby schools. Other families come from farther afield, although it’s not far to the water at GBC from many locations in east and central Auckland.

Timewise, the club operates each Sunday for half the year, September to May, and sailing typically takes half a day each Sunday.

For the landlubbers

It’s not all at sea though, and off the water parents are busy, not just supporting the children with their time and baking, but enjoying themselves, involved in the club activities, helping on the deck in the galley and in the patrol boats. Family barbecues and drinks are arranged regularly, and parents are also welcome to become involved in running the club. Volunteer club officers are elected each year, and a roster operates every week during the system to manage all the roles needed to run races and crew patrol boats.

For more info http://www.gbcyachting.org.nz/