Today, I’m over the moon to announce that I’ve partnered with the legendary Norwegian sailing brand, Helly Hansen and am embarking upon a proper adventure with them in the coming 6 months, learning how to sail and eventually competing at Cowes Week in August. But first, I’ll come clean; I’m not a total novice – during my childhood in Sweden I used to sail every summer – as did almost everyone who lived in the maritime environment of the Karlskrona archipelago – and Helly Hansen was the brand to wear, even back then. I’ve literally grown up with them, and have a lot of respect for the way they’ve helped develop the sport. The eagle-eyed reader may have spied over on Instagram that I recently had the mind-boggling opportunity to join them in Barbados and sail with Team Concise. In this little video I put together, you’ll see footage of us sailing the smaller GP 14 dinghies, however we also sailed on the midsized Diam 24 and the monster MOD 70. Click MORE to read about the top health benefits of this sport, which is SO much more accessible than you might have thought!
Throughout my week under the Caribbean sun, I was under the expert guidance of Team Concise, a sailing team formed in 2006 specifically to offer young British sailors a future in competitive offshore racing. Before I met them, the team had just raced ‘Ms. Barbados’, Concise 10 – their amazing 70 foot catamaran around Barbados (a 65-mile race) in record time of 2 hours 37 minutes 38 seconds! The Captain, Ned Collier Wakefield, *literally* earned his weight in Mount Gay rum (87.7kg) as the grand prize for winning the Grand Prix Multi Hull event and smashing the all time course record! What I’m trying to say is that I’m learning to sail with some seriously talented practitioners, which feels fantastic! This team of professionals trusts and is partnered by Helly Hansen.
If you thought sailing was a leisurely sport, I’d urge you to reconsider! It demands sustained strength, both mental and physical, as well as coordination, advanced motor skills and a whole lot of core strength! But likewise, if you thought it was an elitist, exclusive sport, think again, as local, private lessons are available for c.£20 in ultra-easy locations such as London Docklands, making it super accessible, to my mind!
HOW DOES IT MAKE YOU FEEL?
Stepping foot onto the small training dinghy, the GP14, for the first time (and then it’s big brother the Diam 24 trimaran before the big catamaran, the MOD 70) I experienced a moment of sheer fear, which frankly didn’t ease up when we started to shift at pace; the angle of lean can be so extreme that the vessel is basically balancing on one pontoon as it cuts through the water at 25mph, which to the uninitiated makes you feel like you’re about to capsize into the ocean (which FYI, the boat can and does do if it’s without expert handling!). So as part of the ‘normal course of business’ you need to apply some serious counterbalance and thus gain maximum speed; the agile crew leans back off the far side with a 5 foot drop beneath! Fear of serious injury or worse definitely runs through the mind – in my case evidenced by my clinging to the side of the boat thinking ‘please slow down’. However 15 minutes later, I was thinking ‘I love it, faster, faster’! Inhibition just dissolves into the ocean as the sensation of sailing is just utterly exhilarating – wind in your face, water splashing and freshening you, the blue skies and that inimitable sensation of being in the grasp of nature as you tear along balanced on a thin knife edge, propelled by mere wind! My experience was certainly to feel completely free and very much alive!
AND WHERE DO YOU FEEL IT?
i) CORE STRENGTH:
You’re leaning back much of the time, with your bottom perched on the edge of the boat and your feet tucked in under the strap. The core (that muscular girdle around the back and torso) is fully engaged, as this static hold is literally keeping you from collapsing into the sea. Trust me it’s tough, as you experience a burning sensation much like that from planking. Plus you’re constantly on a shifting unstable surface trying to find your balance, naturally engaging every little muscle in you body including the deepest of stabilisers that really don’t have the chance to get out much! The constant mix of stimulation will also work your coordination and motor skills.
You’re constantly deploying upper body strength when trimming the sheets or hoisting the sails; that’s seriously fatiguing especially when you have to do it often and over a long period of time. The sails are heavy even if they are made out of carbon, and constantly unfurling them can be exhausting! This also works the associated secondary muscles that complement the arm movements; there’s plenty of trapezius, deltoid and rhomboid stimulation from this too, as well as the upper and low back, which is why sailors are often pictured with such marvellously defined torsos.
You’re strapped in, with feet securely tucked in under rope lines, and before long, your thighs start to shake. It’s impossible to relax any of the muscles in your legs because they’re ensuring you stay in one place. When you do stand up you are constantly balancing, almost in a squat position. Every facet of the sailing ‘stance’, whether seated or standing, requires serious engagement from the leg muscles. The following day is always a jelly-like experience!
iv) THE REST:
– There’s the mental tranquility from focussing amidst such calm & Energy it’s a seriously intense natural endorphin release which is energising and uplifting, blues-banishing stuff -but also utterly relaxing at the same time.
– Then there’s the Mental Focus required too; whilst sailing clearly demands tremendous concentration on the manual tasks at hand, I’d argue it also requires equal focus from the mind. This in turn takes the mind off its worldly problems and provides a fabulous escape from the mundane worries and stresses!
– And finally I think it encourages better team work and more regular, constructive and efficient communication : yes the skipper is in charge, but it is very much a team effort and sport requiring proper synchronicity to really work properly!
A huge thanks to Helly Hansen as well as Port Ferdinand & Barbados Tourism Management Inc for arranging this remarkable experience, for the super-talented (& patient) Team Concise for providing a wonderful educational experience, and to Virgin Atlantic for saving me from paddling home 😂. More updates on my sailing adventures to follow soon, but in the meantime, why not check out whether you like the sport yourself?!?! If you want to get properly kitted out, then check out the Helly Hansen ‘What’s On Your Horizon?’ competition HERE!