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Surf Tips

How to: sail a boat


Teiki Ballian, according to the author,‘one of the best sailors I‘ve ever met’ with some time away from the helm well spent. Photo: Federico Vanno.

Words by Matt Smith

Sexy as they are, the salt covered folk that move about different worlds with the wind in their sails and the sun on their backs are not some crazed creatures born from the tide, they’re just the same bag of skin and bones as the rest of us. It isn’t a secret world or private to the rich and famous, sailing is one of the easiest skills to learn, way easier than riding a bike, driving a car or flying a plane. It ain’t all about champagne and oral sex or a ‘panting and snorting ocean’ described in Moby Dick. Do it the right way and floating around on boats will be the best thing you ever did, that’s as long as you don’t get caught half way from Region de Finisterre to Cape Finisterre in a hurricane.

Reach Out

Consider who you know or who you know that knows someone with a small boat… have a wander down the harbour or marina and have a yarn with one of the old pards, never will a mariner turn you down. All they ask is a little enthusiasm, some super basic social skills and you will have a sailing buddy for life. Most sailors need an extra pair of hands to sail and the company is al- ways nice. Learn a few knots before you get there, a bowline and a half hitch are all you’ll need.

Learn The Basics

Rock up with some warmish clothing, some food to share and a bottle of rum to say thank you. Stay out of their way whilst they sort their shit out and don’t ask too many questions. Try to see the simple mechanisms of sailing; putting the sails up, how they work and how they change with the wind. Basically if you are looking to the front (bow) you need the wind to be blowing anywhere from cheek to cheek around your back and the boat will move. When the day is done, go to the bar and buy the first drink, listen to a few stories and tell a few lies.

Expand Your Horizons, Drink Port

As you get more used to the nautical terms, use them, they work wonders in bars and cafes with the opposite sex, not a person in the world can resist ‘as the wind backed and filled her mizzen cloth she reached top knots all the way to her resting place in the sea of darkness’. See if old pard will take you out on a few longer trips, after a while ask questions, everyone likes to talk. Ask if you can drive (helm) the boat, do things slowly and try to understand why it reacts in the way it does. Don’t drink too much and don’t crash. Pass other boats Port to Port, If you drink all the PORT that’s LEFT you will get a RED nose. Port is the left side of the boat and it’s a red light.

Ride Free

Have a little look online on sites like findacrew and crew seeker. There are free and low paid passages from Europe to all corners of the world. No air fair needed and you can take all the weight you need. Jumping off a boat to surf is one of the most special things in life, and if you had the wind take you to the waves old huey rewards you for it. Read the RYA basic sailing books, see if you can understand a bit of the theory. Pay attention to what the weather does each day and notice the different clouds.

Become Your Own Captain

Rent a boat for a day about 60/100 euros for a small 20ft sailing boat for 24 hours. You’ll have more fun than a night in the club even if you don’t leave the harbour. Do a trip somewhere, if it’s to the closest island from your part of the coast, or across the channel stay the night, and come back. Travel by the winds; give a farewell kiss to your loved ones and your world will change forever. Become your own captain.

Find your mermaid. Or Merman. Quit your job, burn your tie, buy a boat, fill her with boards, beans and baguettes, pick a place on a map (chart). Point your steed and go. Find a point break, drink rainwater, get sunburnt, make babies, start a sailing commune, name your child after the first hurricane you were shaken by and get lost in the forgotten horizons.

Travel by the winds; give a farewell kiss to your loved ones and your world will change forever. Become your own captain.


Teiki Ballian has been around the world 3 times… with boards of course. Photo: Federico Vanno

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