I’d been thinking about learning to sail for awhile now. My husband, Matt, is super keen on sailing and has much more experience than me. I wanted an opportunity to learn on my own, being able to ask whatever I wanted. After a failed attempt at Dubai Offshore Sailing Club, I decided to do some research on Royal Yachting Association (RYA) schools abroad. In the end, I decided to on learning to sail with Trafalgar Sailing, located in Gibraltar.
Firstly, if you want to learn to sail in a yacht, there are a few RYA qualifications that you can achieve. If you are like me, with basically no experience, you need to begin with Start Yachting or Competent Crew. I went for the Competent Crew course, which required a live-aboard component. If you have a bit of sailing experience, you can go for your Day Skipper. The other members of my crew were completing this. You are recommended to have sailed at least five days, had four hours of night sailing, and have completed 100 miles to undertake the Day Skipper. Of course, the more experience you have, the better! Upon completion, you receive an internationally recognized certificate endorsed by the RYA.
So, why Gibraltar? What’s the rationale for taking a sailing course on this strange little British outpost? In the end, it came down to a few things. Sailing in Gibraltar meant I would be taking my course with native English speaking instructors. I’m sure there are many fabulous English speaking instructors overseas. For me, however, having a native English instructor just made life a little easier. The weather in Gibraltar is reasonable all year round – although it can get a little chilly. Gibraltar is also a tidal area, which means you can get the tidal endorsement for your Day Skipper. It’s really easy to get to from the UK, which meant I could fly to London and on to Gib. In the end, all the stars aligned, and I picked Trafalgar Sailing.
The crew at Trafalgar Sailing were professional from day one. I had lots of questions for Cathy, who runs the school, and she was always quick to respond and incredibly helpful. This gave me a lot of faith in the organisation before I even got to Gibraltar! Cathy provided advice on where to stay and what to do in the area. She also recommended places to stay up the Spanish Coast, if I wanted to make the trip a longer holiday.
The course started at around 6PM on Sunday night, when we met at a local restaurant near the boat. Gibraltar is really small, and you can easily walk to the marina from the airport. Since I arrived earlier that day, I decided to explore the Rock of Gibraltar and the rest of the town. Given its not exactly sprawling, I wouldn’t recommend staying for too long before hand! I met my new crew mates, and the next morning, we started our course.
The Competent Crew course is basically as the name states. By the end of it, you should be a helpful and experienced crew member. Most of the work I did during the week focused around support while mooring, helming, the points of sail, knowing the meaning of markers, understanding how to operate the sails and winches, readying the boat and learning knots. Turns out I’m not great with knots, and I’m sure my crewmates giggled away at me trying to practice my upside down, backwards bowlines. I got there in the end! Because everyone else was more advanced than me – and doing a slightly different course – I spent a lot of time helping out, and learning exactly what to do to assist the Skipper when, for example, they are mooring in a particular way.
Over the course of the six days sailing, we spent time around Gibraltar, and also sailed up the coast to Sotogrande in Spain. We did a passage from Sotogrande – Gibraltar – Ceuta, a Spanish city in Morocco, on the African mainland. This was my first time setting foot on the African continent, so it was a little strange to be in a Spanish city! We then head back to Gibraltar, and spent the last day around the harbour.
As there were others on my boat who were doing the Day Skipper course, I also learnt a little bit of what they were working towards. This included a basic understanding of passage planning, taking bearings and calculating distances of ships away from us, and participating in the night sail. While cold, this was a real highlight for me. We had to motor the whole way because of low wind, but we did manage to avoid the lightning and thunder we saw (and heard!) rumbling over the Spanish Coast. I enjoyed being able to helm at sunrise, which was only improved with dolphins decided to join us alongside. It really was a great way to get some night hours!
Our boat was a comfortable Bavaria 38. It was a full house with five students and an instructor, and I was very appreciative to have my own private, spacious aft cabin! I found it incredibly relaxing sleeping on the boat, and the weather wasn’t so hot that it was uncomfortable. The boat was big enough for all of us, with seating space and lots of room up on deck to sit around. We had a toaster, kettle and microwave, and a big fridge/freezer for supplies. While there were heads on board, we mainly used the marina facilities when we weren’t at sea. These were all clean and tidy. Most nights, we ate ashore. While the food in Gibraltar was a bit more pub-grub then I was used to, it was relatively cheap and still tasty. There are around 15 restaurants within a five minute walk of the boat.
Our instructor, Amy, had so much knowledge – and most importantly, was really patient with us. I really appreciated having the chance to take part in some opportunities that I probably wouldn’t have had on a Competent-Crew only course – such as helming a Man Overboard drill! She was really focused on safety, and taught us lots of great skills that would help us safely moor up the yacht – such as using a Skippers Loop and Lassos. Most of all, she was fun and friendly – and along with the great crew I had with me, really made the week a good one.
I have to admit, I was a little hesitant going into this trip. Given that I hate camping, and I struggle with being around strangers, I was worried. I am so glad that I completed my course with Trafalgar Sailing. While it was really challenging for me, I enjoyed it very much. The course gave me a lot of confidence, and I can’t wait to get out again to put into practice some of what I have learnt. So bravo, Trafalgar Sailing! You’ve got my vote, and I’d love to come back again some day soon. If you are interested in learning to sail, or want to complete your Day Skipper, make sure you consider learning to sail with Trafalgar Sailing!
For a short video featuring some highlights of my trip, please click play below!