Looking for something for the kids to do over the holiday period? Looking for a good, healthy sport that gets the kids out in the fresh air, gives them some exercise and a sense of responsibility? Then look no further than your local yacht club or sail training facility.
Momentum is building in the learn-to-sail area and there has been no better time to get your kids into this great sport. Sailing skills are retained for life, but older sailors will quickly admit that you are never too old or too experienced to learn, either.
We went along to one of the newest sailing schools in Victoria to find out what it's all about. The Boatshed at Albert Park in Melbourne is run by Yachting Victoria and is arguably one of the best facilities to introduce kids, and adults for that matter, to sailing.
The Boatshed is run by Rod Austin and his team of young, dedicated instructors. The aim of the Boatshed is to become a model for other clubs to follow in terms of training kids in the skills of sailing and safety on the water.
The Boatshed runs a course called Tackers which, according to Rod Austin, is to sailing what Nippers is to surf lifesaving.
The Tackers course takes kids from ages seven to 12 in stages from novice right up to instructor. However, as Yachting Victoria CEO Ross Kilborn says, it is a new program and still under development: "The development of Tackers is being supported by funding from VicHealth and the Australian Federal Government Active Health Program, and it's led by Yachting Victoria's Sports Development Manager, Daisy Brookes," said Kilborn.
"Last year, YV piloted the program at five locations and this year that will expand to 10 - it is a program very much in the development stage.
"At this stage, the pilot is going well, but it's only one year into what is likely to be a five-year development," he added.
Stage one of the Tackers program takes kids from novice standard to give them a basic understanding of how a boat works, and it gets them out and sailing fairly competently. The program is 20 hours long and runs for five days over the holiday period: "In the first stage, we basically want to instil confidence in the kids and get them out on the water," said Austin. "We want them to have fun and get the full enjoyment of sailing. The way we teach them is in a manner that they are having so much fun that most of the time they don't even realise they are learning."
Tackers 1 will take the student to a level where he or she will be competent to take the boat out on a moderate day.
"If we give them a good time, a fun program in Tackers 1, then they'll come back for Tackers 2," said Austin.
Tackers 2 is a further 12 hours of instruction, which concentrates more on technique and the technical aspects of the boat, plus tricks like stalling the boat or sailing backwards.
"We try to keep the groups together as they progress up through the courses," said Austin. "That way they form friendships and push each other onwards to become better sailors."
When they sign up, the kids are given a T-shirt, a cap and a drink bottle. The T-shirts are different colours for the different levels of the course and, according to Rod, the kids strive for the next colour T-shirt: "It becomes a goal for them to get the next colour shirt," he said. "It's more important to them than the certificates we give at the end of each level."
The Tackers program has been adopted by Yachting Australia as its official training program for kids. It is now in seven facilities in Victoria, and Middle Harbour Yacht Club and Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club have taken up the program in NSW.
The 20-hour Tackers 1 program costs $260 at The Boatshed and includes all equipment, including the boat, a PFD 1, safety boats, merchandise, fruit and drinks for the kids and even a sausage sizzle. The classes are quite compact, with the instructor-to-student ratio currently running at 1:8.
The kids are taught in Optimist dinghies - safe and stable boats with one sail. Interestingly, although they do look a little ungainly on the water, they are an international class boat used in 110 countries. The Boatshed has 30 'Optis', as they are affectionately known, in its fleet, along with seven disability boats and 18 Pacers, which are larger than the Optis and have a mainsail and jib requiring a crew of at least two.
There will be other programs run by yacht clubs around the country over the coming holiday season. To find out more, go on-line and contact your state yachting authority.
For more information, go to www.yachting.org.au and click on your state or territory to get the low-down on where and when your nearest sailing school operates.