Teach a kid to sail and set them up for life
I learnt to sail aged about 12 with my then local midlands Sea Scout Troop (and before you ask, it was based on the River Avon)! On the annual Summer Camp, over 100 of us would travel to a lake or reservoir for two weeks of “holiday” playing action man, going on expeditions, water sports and essential life skills like making eggy-bread breakfast or why we use hot water for washing up. I remember it vividly, through heavily rose-tinted spectacles.
The sailing instructing team were a particularly mish-mashed handful of A-Level and University students as well as adult leaders going up to those in their 50s and 60s. Chief of the sailors was a particularly colourful Yorkshireman who referred to many of his students as “Muppets” for acts of stupidity (in his eyes), “Florence” for acts of wimpery or “Knuckle-Draggers” if you prefer kayaking. It was incredibly un-PC as I think back now but you knew you’d done well if you did something “Not half bad”.
On Summer Camp, you could find him, without fail, starting the day on the edge of the water launching tatty toppers into Lake Windermere (or wherever we were that year) and gradually being lured deeper and deeper until he was up to his armpits, shouting “PUSH the tiller away!” in between the grumbles. The wide-brimmed bush hat, Classic Hikers and Agile rubber boots with woolly socks were staple attire. He’d push you to get better and better at controlling the boat and slowly-slowly, the 5 essentials would be second nature.
It wasn’t until years later, we found a sheet of names where he’d divided the entire girls’ and boys’ troops into 4 levels of sailing ability – Useless, Muppets, Rubbish & OK. I’m not sure which group I was in but it was not the “Ok”! That was for the year six of us were towed up to the top of Lake Bala, un-furled about a foot of sail and death rolled back down to the campsite and launching area. I remember it being not unlike Mario-Cart with capsizes left, right and centre and the feeling of relief when one of the adults on shore caught the bow was immense.
At some point in my teens, this muppet caught this sailing bug and now everything seems to be sailing-related. I lift weights in the gym, cycle or jog for fitness, I work in sailing, my weekends are sailing, my holidays are sailing events where sometimes I do “not half bad” and I still “wave to the fishies” when I tack. If I hadn’t been taught to sail, I would not be the same person, for which I am truly grateful. Teaching a kid to sail could set them up for life.
In Memory of Martin Scurrah, 19/02/1960 – 26/01/2022
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Emma, what lovely and amazing words about an amazing bloke; “Our Lad”, my Big Brother….