Sunday, 23 August 2009

Finding dinghies

As born again sailors, we are having difficulty finding somewhere to sail regularly. Sailing even dinghies can become an expensive pasttime, so finding the right venue is important. We don't want to buy a dinghy until we know we are comfortable with a certain class of boat, so we are trying out different boats. This is not as easy as it sounds and we have seen that some club boats are decidedly rough and unloved.

We did look for a long weekend sailing break for the coming Bank Holiday weekend but despite the enormity of the web and subscribing to half-a-dozen magazines it took ages to find places that rent dinghies to visitors. Most clubs hire out boats only to their members and most sailing centres are heavily focused on training courses only. If you want to build hours, you do need to join a club and hire a club boat or buy your own. Eventually we gave up on finding a place to sail as visitors (well almost) and have booked just one day for the weekend in The Broads on a classic Waveney. It really does surprise me how poorly the information is presented on the Web.

By using the RYA website, I discovered Finesse Leisure at Welwyn Garden City. The trick with this database was to ignore anything with the word "Club" in the title, checking only places entitled "Centre". Finesse is the name for what used to be the Hatfield and Welwyn Garden City council leisure services, and their facilities at Stanborough seemed to tick all the boxes....sizable lake, range of boats for hire, public usage at any time, long opening hours and seemingly a professional approach.

I drove over this morning and was really taken with Stanborough, although the lake is smaller than I'd like and there are a lot of anglers who glare at you from the banks. Sailors are advised to stay at least two boat lengths clear of the sides, but even five lengths away they are glaring and making it clear you are entering their territory.

I was able to try out the RS Q'Ba, the slightly quicker RS equivalent of the Laser Pico. It does feel much more flighty than the Pico and more comfortable all round. The wind blows every which way at Stanborough with high trees bending the wind substantially, and the variety was endless: it would be completely still then a southwesterly gust of 15 knots for 20 seconds followed by 10 knots briefly from the southeast. I was learning to read the wind off the surface of the lake.

I'll be back: it's good to see how good a sailing centre can be run.

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