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RYA Start Yachting Course • What to Expect!

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RYA Start Yachting Course • What to Expect!

Dino Hodzovic

This past weekend, we set out to West Wales and embarked on a RYA Start Yachting course with Pembrokeshire Cruising. It was a weekend of learning how to sail, and is open for anyone to try! We didn't have a clue what to expect but it turned out to be a barrel of laughs and we learnt absolutely loads too!

That's our boat in the centre at the front of the shot! Beautiful day, isn't it?

That's our boat in the centre at the front of the shot! Beautiful day, isn't it?


We’ll share all of the really cool things you’d need to know when it comes to yachting, that you won’t find anywhere else. Well, at least not compiled in a blog like this! We'll also leave links for all the lingo, if you wanted to know more about something.

Treat this as your beginner’s guide to sailing.

You can find our VLOG of the weekend at the bottom of the page but for now, here's what to expect on a RYA Start Yachting course!

Let’s get started.

To set the scene, this all came about when we were recommended to go and try our hands at sailing with Pembrokeshire Cruising.

Pembrokeshire Cruising Yachting courses, from Start Yachting to Competent Crew courses are all available.

Since we’re heading to Croatia in under a month to spend a week on a boat, we figured it’d be an ace opportunity to find our sea legs.

On Friday we set off from Cardiff. Our destination was in Nayland (check it out on maps) over in West Wales. It took us just over 2 hours to drive there.

An aerial photograph of Nayland Marina, in Milford Haven, West Wales.

Roland and his wife Nikki were really friendly, and clearly very passionate about sailing. Up to five people can do the weekend at once, plus the instructor (or skipper), so we waited for the rest of our crew to arrive.

Our skipper was Paul, and he was brilliant. He clearly had a vast understanding of everything sailing, and a whole load of experience too. He’d been sailing all over the world, and was more than happy to share his experiences. In fact, there wasn’t a single thing he didn’t seem to know about, and we quizzed him on everything!

Here are a few obscure sailing facts we learnt!

·      The ‘Bowline’ knot (common sailing knot) is pronounced ‘Bow-Lin’, not 'Bow-Line'. Apparently a very common error.

·      A nautical mile is 1852m versus a land mile, which sits at 1609m.

·      A knot is a measurement of nautical miles per hour.

·      There is only one rope on a boat (for the bell). All of the others are sheets, lines or some other sailing lingo.

·      The main sail usually has three ‘settings’; reef 1, reef 2 and reef 3. If the wind is too strong, you can set the sail to a smaller setting to preserve it (and yourself!). More on reefing here.

·      From approximately 2m above sea level, the horizon is roughly 3 miles away.

·      Don't jump into the escape raft until your boat is actually sinking! - “Always step up into your life raft”.

Back to it.

The boat we were on was called Kalel, and was a 36-foot yacht. For six of us, it was pretty snug but I guess that’s boat life, right?

Every single nook, cranny, chair, table and seat acted as storage of some kind. Literally every space on a boat is harnessed for storage, which meant a lot of us could survive in a relatively compact environment.

The first evening, we all got to know each other a little more. Paul (the skipper) took us through fire safety, as well as an in-depth tour of the boat.

Beth described it as ‘posh caravanning’ – slightly different experience, but you get the idea…

Beth smiling, inside the saloon of a 36 foot yacht during a weekend Start Yachting course with Pembrokeshire Cruising.

Day 2

On the second day, we woke up bright and early. Breakfast was nice and simple; cereal and toast, then we took a final opportunity to have a shower at the marina before we set out. We were finally ready to sail.

Well, not quite yet…

Before we dropped the sails, we had to motor out of the marina area, navigating around all sorts on the way.

Here are some of the things to look out for when boating in a marina or port. It’ll prove useful for when you are sailing.

Green & Red Buoys

All marinas should have both green and red buoys dotted around to help you navigate through the marina. The idea is to guide boats into the marina safely, especially if you don’t know the waters.

When going into a marina you should always keep the red buoys on your port side (port is your left hand side, for any land luggers out there) and the green buoy should stay on your starboard (right).

When sailing in a marina, there are red and green buoys which indicate how to navigate the waters. This diagram explains how it works.

On the way out, it’s the opposite and that counts for pretty much the whole world (I think the US and Canada do it in reverse?). You can find out more about these on the RYA website.

Wait; there are more buoys to look out for!

When sailing in a marina, there are directional buoys which indicate which side you should steer clear of. These are useful for any sailors to navigate safely.

These buoys are used to indicate the direction of the safest navigable water from a mark. If you see a South Cardinal, you should stay to the south.

There were others that simply mark ‘points of significance’ such as shallow waters or shipwrecks.

Diagram of different of buoys that represent points of significance.

Once you know what to look out for, you’ll start to see these buoys everywhere! It’s like playing Frogger at times, trying to navigate out to sea!

We passed a couple of old sea forts too, along with a mist that swooped in for most of the morning.

A misty photograph of an old sea fort in the port of Milford Haven. A sea mist gently coats the image, and the sea is relatively calm.

Before long, we’d all learnt how to unpack the main sail, hoist it up using the main halyard and tweak the boom using the main sheet (or kicker line).

After that, we unraveled the front sail (or jib) and fastened it in place using it’s sheets.

When sailing a yacht, the main halyard line is used to hoist the main sail. It's wrapped around a winch, allowing you to pull it tight in order to raise the mainsail.

Sailing takes a healthy amount of teamwork but all in all, it can be quite relaxing. Once the sails are up and positioned correctly we were free to sail. Admittedly, we were ‘leisure sailing’ at a steady speed of 4-6 knots for most of the time.

When it comes to racing, or more advanced sailing there are things you can do to obviously speed up your boat and harness the wind more efficiently. This involves playing with the sail (trimming the sail) and angle versus the wind. To be honest, I think we were all delighted to be moving.

There was plenty of time for everyone to have a go at the wheel (helm), hoist the sails, tack and everything else that sailing involved.

A selfie from our weekend away with Pembrokeshire Cruising, on a RYA Start Yachting course

Here’s some more sailing essentials that could prove super useful if you’re thinking about giving it a go yourself.

This one’s pretty important...

You can't sail directly into the wind! It’s not possible so don’t try it. There’s like a 10-2 arc that you should aim to avoid. That being said, any other angle to the wind is completely fine. Even going indirectly to the wind!

Check out this diagram to see the terms for each direction that you can sail, in relation to the wind.

A sailing diagram showing the direction of the wind, and ways you can sail in relation to the wind. These include Close Reach, Beam Reach, Broad Reach, Running from the wind, Broach Reach, Beam Reach and Close Reach.

“But wait, how can you sail even indirectly into the wind - Wouldn’t it blow you backwards?”

If it hurts your brain trying to visualise how the wind can take you so many different directions, all you need to know is that boats have big flat blades underneath (the keel) that go deep, and stop the boat from capsizing. They also allow the boat to work in harmony with the wind to produce forward thrust!

It’s all physics; you can either trust the engineers that built the boats or think about it hard enough and it will eventually begin to make sense.

True wind vs apparent wind

Here’s another one that, when you know about it you begin to notice it a lot more.

If you’re sailing away from the wind (running downwind), it’ll seem a lot less windy then it actually is.

Likewise, if you sail towards the wind (at an angle of course), it can seem windier than it is.

If you’re struggling to get your head around it, here’s how it was explained to us:

Picture two cars driving towards each other at 20mph and 30mph. The speed of collision would be 50mph.

The same two cars driving in the same direction at 20mph and 30mph would have a collision speed of 10mph.

If that still doesn’t make sense, you can find more about it here.

After sailing for a couple of hours, we finally anchored in the waters of Dale (see on maps) for the night. By this point everyone was getting on nicely and we had a great evening.

The sun setting whilst we anchor our 36 foot yacht during our Start Yachting weekend in Pembrokeshire, West Wales.

Day 3

Beth sailing at the helm of our yacht, with the skipper giving directions. We all got to steer the boat during our Start Yachting weekend.

On the last day, the sun was absolutely gleaming. It was warm and the skies were clear. There was a decent breeze too!

It wasn’t long before we set off sailing once again.

Tacking & Jibing

Tacking and Jibing are basically words to describe turning the boat, and relate to the direction of wind versus the boat.

Tacking is when you turn the front (or bow) of the boat into the direction of the wind (the eye of the wind), and Jibing is when the back (the stern) of the boat is turned into the eye of the wind.

Both are very similar, and involve turning the boat; when the wind falls out of the sails, the front sail (jib) is thrown to the other side of the boat (using a system of ropes- I mean sheets!) to catch the wind going the other way as we turn.

Hoisting a sail by using a winch is the way sailors do it. Here Beth is giving it a go. Who knew she'd be a natural at sailing?

Every turn involved a few of us working together, pulling sheets around winches and monitoring the direction of the wind. It’s really engaging and rewarding when you get it right, and I’m sure there’s a lot more ‘right’ you can get it!

In the early afternoon, we had lunch and finally began to make our way back to the marina.

After tying the boat up and giving it a quick rinse (just kidding, we left it spotless – honest!) we had completed our Start Yachting course and were back on land.

We met up with Roland and Nicky again and received our certificates for completing the weekend, in one piece.

RYA Start Yachting Course certificates from Pembrokeshire Cruising, in West Wales. They are signed off by our skipper and mean are one step closer to being 'competent crew!'

Final Thoughts

All in all, sailing is really fun! Even for novices, provided at least someone knows what they’re doing. We all got on really well, and came back a lot better off.

We had a really great time Yachting over the weekend with Pembrokeshire Cruising. The sun was out, and we all caught a tan. It was great fun.

The course we did was an official RYA course, recognised all over the world. It isn’t necessary to go sailing, but it most certainly helps!

We hope we provided some insight into what to expect, for anyone who may be thinking about doing a Start Yachting course in the future!

Don't forget to watch the video we put together over the weekend. If you like our vibe, hit subscribe!


A special thanks to Pembrokeshire Cruising for the amazing weekend! You can find everything you need to know about them on their website. We'd definitely recommend them!