Sailing on Bassenthwaite…

By Beth Monks

Sailing on Bassenthwaite, gliding across the tranquil waters of England's Lake District.

My 2010 was a year of re-establishment and discovery. After finally escaping institution and moving home in August I was ready for some excitement in my new reality. This began with two very busy and tiring weeks in the Lake District, learning to sail and paraglide!

I was slightly apprehensive about the thought of floating along in an unsteady vessel on deep water but I was excited to learn to sail and I was pleased when the week began beaming with good weather! Well, what I thought to be good weather – blue skies, blazing sunshine, hardly any of that blustery air that makes your ears cold… Apparently I had much to learn as I happily bobbed about in no specific direction, basking in the sun, in the little harmless feeling keel dingy on Bassenthwaite Lake. Lesson number one – no wind, disability or not, greatly affects your ability to sail!

Thankfully, throughout the week the wind picked up and bobbing about quickly turned into me panicking every time the boat turned away from the wind (‘gibing’) and tipped a bit. This uneasy feeling only escalated as the winds got stronger resulting in my vow to never get in “the silly little tea cup style” access dinghies again! (Even though, actually, the access dinghies are practically impossible to capsize!) I ended up sticking to the more stable feeling but faster ‘windrider’ trimaran. I was the helmsman, taking control of steering and I really enjoyed grasping the theory and thought required. Initially I literally thought you could just sail a boat in a straight line anywhere you wished… I was very wrong! We were learning on a very difficult lake for beginners - Bassenthwaite is really unpredictable with very changeable winds. This made it hard to work out where the wind was actually coming from. But we had some brilliant days where the wind was very strong - I think they said force 6, which apparently they wouldn’t usually let learners sail on!

An interesting landing

The aim for the end of the week was to get my RYA level 2 so I was competent enough to go sailing at other lakes once the course was over. In order to do this I had to learn the principles of sailing and demonstrate I could actually sail. I also had to capsize! This felt like a bigger deal than it sounds, as I can’t really swim. But after a bit of peer pressure I found myself in a very tippy boat going into the middle of the lake solely with the aim to fall in. I definitely built it up to be more than it was; the boat tipped, I fell out, it was cold, I hung on in the best way I could, someone tipped the boat up with me in it sideways, I landed interestingly, and that was that! I was pleased I’d done it as it made me less nervous. I was even more pleased when I got my RYA level 2 at the end of the week!

Sailing was great for me. When I was on the water and the boat was adapted for me to use my ability to control it hardly differed from that of able-bodied people. It is a really sociable sport that exceeded my expectations; I found it more exciting and adrenaline pumping than I thought it would be, the boats can go really fast and can be challenging to control, especially when you have to fight very strong winds in torrential rain! I’m definitely going to go sailing more regularly this year now the weather is getting warmer!

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