South Staffs Burgee
South Staffordshire Sailing Club
RYA Volvo Champion Club National Lottery - Sport England

Learning to Sail

2017 - RYA Level 1, 'Plus 1' and Level 2 Courses

We run two RYA approved Learn to Sail courses for adults per year with courses usually selling out. Suitable for adults of all ages and levels of fitness, this course gives you a basic knowledge of sailing and the capability to sail a dinghy in light winds without an instructor. Sailing is a relatively cheap sport to take up and you don't need any special equipment to get started just comfy clothes, soft soled shoes and a sense of adventure!

Interest is always high in these courses, please see the details below or contact Roy Alexander for more information.

The level 1 and 2 courses are aimed at both members and prospective members and will be run in two sections, the first being a series of 5 Wednesday evenings. This is then followed by a gap of several weeks, in which we encourage participants to practice their skills, the Level 'Plus 1' programme until the Level 2 part of the course is run over two consecutive Saturdays. RYA logbooks will be provided and RYA certificates will be awarded on successful completion of the course.

The capsize drill is an essential part of the course and will take place on the fifth Wednesday of the level 1 sessions. It is a good idea to beg or borrow a wet suit for this occasion but is not essential as the water is usually relatively warm and time in the water is kept to a minimum.


2017 Dates

Course 1 - Start to sail - Level 1, Level 'Plus 1', Level 2

Level 1 :-

Wednesday evenings.

 5 evenings in April and May 
Dates - April 26th & May 3rd, 10th, 17th & 24th


 6:30 to 9:30 pm (approx)

Structured Practice:
Level 'Plus 1'

 Wednesday evenings to suit from July to August
 Also free practice on Saturday mornings

Level 2:-


 July 15th and 22nd


 9.30 to 4.30pm (approx)


 £115 Members

 £230 Non-members inc 2017 membership


Course 2 - Start to sail - Level 1, Level 'Plus 1', Level 2

Level 1 :-

Wednesday evenings.

 5 evenings in June and July
 Dates - June 7th, 14th, 21st, 28th & 5th July


 6.30 to 9.30 pm (approx)

Structured Practice:
Level 'Plus 1'

 Wednesday evenings to suit from July to August
 Also free practice on Saturday mornings

Level 2:-


 September 2nd and 16th


 9.30 to 4.30pm (approx)


 £115 Members

 £230 Non-members inc 2017 membership


Course 3 - Start to sail - Level 1

Level 1:-




 9.30 to 4.30pm (approx)


 £TBC Members

 £TBC Non-members

Beginner's Blog

If you were wondering what it's really like to Learn to Sail at South Staffs? Well wonder no more, this year we have been trying to capture the experiences of our newbies with blogs from students and instructors. Click on the links below to read an individual blog or scroll down to read the whole series.



Level 2 student Chloe Dawson's blog:

Driving home from our first level 1, learn to sail lesson in April I had a big smile on my face.. and lots of questions whizzing round my head. 

Will I ever be able to tack without falling over? Starboard means right, or was it left? How did my instructor ’just know’ where the wind was coming from? Am I meant to reaching or beating or running? Did I really just dance the Rumba? So many new words to learn and boat parts with strange names, will I be able to do this? 

Fast forward 3 months and the smile is back - we’ve just passed the level 2 course. Earlier that day we’d rigged our own boats, put a reef in (it was gusty!), ‘mastered’ the man-over-board routine, raced (sort of) a triangular course and come back to the jetty without hitting anything - result.

Looking back I can’t quite believe how far we’ve come in such a short time - how did we manage it? Maybe because we were an exceptional group of high achievers at the peak of physical fitness? … erm, not exactly. We were lucky, we had instructors with infectious enthusiasm, who understand how hard the basics are when you’re just starting out, who didn’t laugh (or at least tried hard not to) when ‘beginner’ questions were asked, and who just made it all really ace - even capsizing! 

There’s still so much more to learn but I don’t think we could have had a better start.

Level 2 student Mike Bradley sums up his experience:

Earlier this year I chanced upon the SSSC and popped in to enquire about learning to sail. I was made to feel most welcome and was impressed by the enthusiasm of the members. They were obviously passionate about both the sport and the club, and keen to encourage new members. As a result I signed up for a level one course followed by their ‘Plus 1’ programme and a level 2 course.

Tomorrow I’ll be heading to the club for the second and final day of my level 2 course. As with the rest of the programme, I’m looking forward to the day with much excitement as I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every moment on the water and at the club.

I cannot recommend SSSC highly enough. The welcome and enthusiasm I experienced on my first visit has continued throughout. I’ve found the instruction and training to be of an extremely high standard and am both pleased and proud of the progress I’ve made under their expert tuition.

The training team are always keen to pass on their expertise, tips and knowledge and always offer encouragement. Other club members are also keen to assist and give their time and effort to help us in our training. As a result I feel at home at the club and have no qualms in asking for help and advice when required.

The club places emphasis on retaining new members and encouraging us to continue in the sport. It is spending much time and effort to offer opportunities for advancement and experience in all aspects of its extensive activities and events.


SSSC have that rare combination of the enthusiasm of the amateur and the standards of the professional. I’m looking forward to progressing in the sport and having great time in so doing. I would have no hesitation in recommending the club to anybody looking to get involved in this fun, challenging and exciting sport.

Level 1 student and sailing journalist Karenza Morton's blog:

In the beginning

About six months ago I decided I’d talked the talk for long enough, it was now time to start walking it – yep, eight years after submerging myself in a career in sailing, I was finally going to do my Level 1.

Now in my defence I never pretended to be a sailor when I got the job with the Racing Comms team at sailing’s HQ. I was a Sports Science graduate, a qualified journalist who had worked in professional sport for 15 years. I could have just as easily ended up working in athletics, badminton, wrestling even. But sailing it was.

So quickly my life became about tacking, gybing, mark roundings, luffing, laylines, but most excitingly gold medals. Lots and lots of gold medals.

I’d grasped the lingo, I knew what it all meant, I could have an intelligible conversation about sailing, from Olympic level to grassroots, in all its various guises. But stick me in a boat and I just couldn’t have put any of what I knew into practice.

So, aided by a little bit of ‘gentle’ persuasion from Tony Hotchkiss, six months ago I knew it was time I put that right and last Wednesday (22 April) I sailed out into the South Staffordshire sunshine for the first time.

Week 1

Well I say ‘sailed’ it was more stuttering, stalling and not being very good at steering, but I was waterborne! I was stumbling, if not quite walking, the walk.

I’m the first to admit I couldn’t have had a better first experience. I’ve been on plenty of boats before, but being put in charge of the tiller and being told to sail across the wind for the first time, was a whole different ball game.

Yet my instructor Mark (Nichols) was unfailingly clear, concise and, most importantly, patient.

I’m a bit of a one for beating myself up if I’m not the World’s leading expert after one attempt so there was plenty of “I can’t do this,” “I’m never going to be able to do this,” “There’s too many things to think about!” being spewed from my negative mouth. Mark wasn’t having any of it, however. For every Morton muttering, there was positive encouragement, a demo here, an explanation there.

Maybe it was the fact it was 18 degrees, the sunset was sensational and I’d finally sailed a boat, but I went home with a very big grin on my face.

Week 2

I can’t say I was looking forward to week two if I’m honest. Having done my homework, as instructed to the previous week by Roy Alexander, I’d checked out the weather forecast and it didn’t make for pretty beginners’ reading. Windy. When you’re scared about the boat tipping over and getting knocked senseless by an errant boom, it almost doesn’t matter if it’s 10 knots or 20. It’s windy!

In week one we’d tried tacking. It didn’t come naturally. For some reason me and the tiller extension weren’t natural buddies, I couldn’t easily get it to bend at the joint.

This doesn’t lend itself then to tacking and trying to keep track of what the tiller’s doing and where the boat is pointing whilst falling clumsily about the boat.

Even Steve Troke comparing tacking to something out of Strictly Come Dancing didn’t help; in my kerfuddled mind it was still a fuzzy mass of awkward movements.

Step forward patient Mark. We’d reefed the sails before we went afloat, a very good move as it turned out with it gusting around 20knots on the pool, and, as boring as it must have been for him, reaching short distances backwards and forwards practicing tacks became the order of the night. Repetition, repetition, repetition.

I wasn’t, to use Steve’s dancing analogy, quite the Darcey Bussell of South Staffs by the end of the session but at least I could move, very, very slowly through a proper tack. Leave the rope in your hand one side, start to push the tiller away, move your weight towards the middle of the boat, wait for the boom to pass over your head, stand up, pull the mainsheet towards you with the tiller still behind your back, sit down, get comfortable, sail away and then readjust you’re the tiller and sheet. Easy!

For the rest of the session we used loads of words I’ve written about liberally over the past eight years but never actually been able to ‘feel’.

‘Close hauling’, ‘running’, ‘reaching’, ‘wind angles’, ‘no go zone’. It was brilliant! To see the jib sheet flapping and then instinctively understand the need to bear away to sail on the edge of the wind for the first time was so much fun.

Ok there were a few hairy moments when the sails got overpowered and panic set in as my brain forgot which way to push the tiller but hey, I couldn’t have done that a week ago, and certainly not at any other point in the previous eight years.

I couldn’t decide if it was a good thing or not that I hadn’t even realized how chilly I was until I got ashore, but it was nothing a cup of tea didn’t sort out. Thanks Peter in the galley!

My next job is to find me some gloves and maybe some proper boots. I’m not quite ready to invest in a drysuit, but I will definitely be back next week. I might even remember a couple of the knots by then too! But then again…..

Week 3

Much has been made over the past few years of the role of Dr Steve Peters in the success of British Cycling, and his methods, described in his book ‘The Chimp Paradox’, hailed for the high return of gold medals.

The basic premise of The Chimp Paradox is emotional control. If you let your ‘chimp’ dictate, performance will be flawed. Learn to control your ‘chimp’ and you have a much better chance of succeeding.

On Wednesday, it was not Karenza that went sailing on lesson three, it was my chimp, and the results weren’t pretty.

The reason was simple, albeit not excusable. The forecast all day Wednesday had been for gusts that if not quite strong enough to blow the proverbial dogs off their chains, was still enough to give those pups a vigorous blow dry. The ‘will we sail or won’t we’ unnerved me, I’ve got to – somewhat pathetically – admit and when the decision was made to get afloat apprehension and anxiety got the better of me.

Our instructor team had handled the uncertainty with the calmness you’d expect. ‘It’s meant to drop, we’ll watch a video, keep an eye on it, and see how it goes.’

No pressure, no drama.

Video watched, the choice was given to us – we could sail if we wanted to, or we could practice some bits ashore. Each individual could make their own call.

I wanted to sail, I really, really did. I’ve loved it so far. So wetsuit donned – a very good move on a cool evening – and sails reefed we got afloat.

It was then my chimp took the tiller.

In reality the wind was doing nothing more than it did the previous week when, although somewhat slower than I’d still like, I’d grasped the process of tacking if not exactly mastered the art.

But my chimp? Nah, the bloody simian didn’t have a clue what it was doing.

In my head it was windy and gusty and shifty. Windy and gusty and shifty made me nervous, windy and gusty and shifty meant potential capsizing, windy and gusty and shifty meant having to rush moves with an added sense of urgency. Windy and gusty and shifty meant rubbish sailing! The chimp was having a GP parrr-rrrrr-taaay!

To instructor Mark’s credit he provided the voice of calm reason. Yet as much as I knew what he was telling me to be true, my anxiousness made me not understand basic instructions, preoccupied with where the next big gust could come from.

Even executing things I’d understood the week before required a bit of gentle reminding of and cajoling to do again.

We tried to come alongside the box twice and I didn’t manage it. Why I thought I’d be able to sail into the jetty, when for the previous half an hour I’d sailed like it was the first time I’d been in a boat, I’ll never know. Needless to say it didn’t end well!

When we got back ashore, after experiencing what can only be described as a moderate breeze, I discovered others in the group had even got into gybing in the session. Yeah, it’s probably a very good thing I didn’t to be honest!

Reassuringly, chatter in the boat park and changing rooms made me realise I wasn’t the only one that had maybe not displayed Ainslie-esque confidence and skills in the session, but I was annoyed with myself. I’d still enjoyed the session, but I felt like I’d wasted time getting flustered when there was nothing to be flustered about!

A few basic rules of the road and some knot practice concluded the evening. My biggest lessons? Your instructor’s got your back 100% and you can’t do anything half-soaked. Commit to a decision or manoeuvre and see it through with gusto!

Next week my chimp’s not invited.

Week 4

It's one of the best kept secrets of the South Staffs Level 1 course - in week four you get whisked off to Florida to sail on glassy waters, the balmy evening warmth snuggling you like a bug in a rug, as the Crimson sun sets majestically over the Keys.

All we needed was an après-sail rum cocktail. But, you know, some of us had work to get to done today and it's not quick flying back from Florida.

Since starting this course I've become a bit of a weather bore. XC Weather has almost replaced Candy Crush as my app of choice - almost - and for the three days day before our next Level 1 instalment I was checking the forecast four or five times a day. I don't even know what I was looking for if I'm honest. I knew I didn't want it blowing a hoolie again and a temperature of 12 degrees plus would also have been preferable but not a deal breaker.

But once I got to the club and we rushed afloat, frantically trying to catch the last whispers of what was anticipated to be a dying breeze, I learned a very valuable lesson - yep I can tell you with total confidence that you do actually need some wind to sail a boat. You heard it here first folks!

This week instructor Mark wasn't available - he had told me this in week one and so I didn't take his absence as a reflection on my ability to be taught! - so Martin bravely stepped into the breach.

Whether it was the tropical weather or the half a bottle of wine I had before I left the house (joke!) but my chimp had pleasingly gone AWOL this week. And lo and behold it's much easier to learn stuff and get stuff right when you're relaxed and rational, who'd have ever thunk it!

Because last week had ended up being a big of a write off there was a bit of refreshing to do this week, but Martin was great, providing tips on steering and tiller position, points to remember about tacking and balancing the boat.

Within five minutes of being in the boat I'd even done my first gybe. By the end of the session I'd done about 10! Although my tacking habit of inexplicably loosening, and sometimes even letting go of, the mainsheet before starting the manoeuvre seems to have followed me to gybing too, oh good!

A triangular course was set and we practiced all the things associated with that, even right of way. Reaching, sailing upwind and downwind, sail and centreboard settings for each, tacking, gybes, judging sailing on the edge of the wind and steering a correct course.

Because I've been the course Billy No Mates as my original boat partner swapped onto the later course, I haven't yet had the chance to sail without an instructor in the boat, but it was awesome looking around the lake seeing everyone else on the course doing it for themselves with the instructors stood on the Box directing from afar. I get my turn next week.

There might not have been much breeze but we could do what we needed to do, albeit it fairly slowly, and it had been a bloody enjoyable way to spend an hour and a bit.

It was as if Steve Finney knew just how chilled and happy we were when we came off the water and had decided to cruelly bring us crashing back to down to Earth by showing us a horrible 18 rated film called 'The Killer Capsize' or something back in the training room. Graphic descriptions of potential slicing and teeth loss from various things that can go wrong in a capsize was up there with watching Silence of the Lambs for the first time. This time I couldn't ask my mum to turn it off.

Ok I exaggerate a tad but the point was made; the time for capsize has arrived, no going back, don't get scared now. Now if Florida could just find its way to Gailey again for the big swim. Wetsuits at the ready we're going in......

Week 5

It got to the point this week where I stopped looking at the forecast. The only inevitability at this final session of our Level 1 was we were going swimming.

I’d long resigned myself to the fact that the only thing that was going to stop this unfolding was some sort of hurricane or an electrical storm of biblical proportions unexpectedly descending over Gailey and I figured if that was going to happen it would the news not the weather that I’d probably hear this first. So I ceased.

It was, therefore, very kind of the Gods of Gailey to bestow probably the most perfect sailing conditions of the course so far on us for C-day.

Instructor Mark was back for the final huzzah and having flown solo for the whole course to date it was lovely to have Chloe join us in the boat this week.

I’d thought throughout the course that having one-to-one tuition was a bit of a bonus but I actually found having someone else in the boat really helpful.

Learning is hard. Not just learning sailing, but learning anything. It requires concentration, concentration requires brain capacity and brain capacity, in my bonce anyway, has a tendency to be limited of a midweek evening. I’m a morning person!

There have been times I freely admit during the course that something has been explained to me, but

 my concentration weary brain had either reached capacity and although I was hearing what my instructor was saying I wasn’t processing and really understanding it. Things rang a bell but the learning didn’t always sink in.

Having an extra person in the boat not only gives you a little break from concentrating, but also that ‘downtime’ is the perfect time to see how someone else does it and really get to grips with some of the principles especially around breeze.

With just enough breezes, no gusts and another beaut of a sunset, I used one of these breaks to get my head around wind flow around the sail, wind angles and sail settings. In our post-sail debrief Steve Finney said that the biggest challenge we would all have over the next few weeks of Plus 1 is grasping where the wind comes from. That was exactly what I was grappling with as Chloe took the helm.

Where do the sails need to be on a close haul? How do you know you’re even on a close haul? What are the principles behind being ‘pushed’ on a training run compared to sailing on a reach? What are the telltales, well, really telling you?

Errant boom–to-forehead bashing while putting the rudder on not withstanding, we cracked on through our manoeuvres without too many – if any – great dramas. Tacking felt much smoother, and gybes didn’t even scare me that much either. I’m still very much of the ‘this can take all day as long as I get it right’ school though!

Eventually the dreaded horn was sounded to indicate boats would start getting called over to do their capsize drill. We were a long way away. We would be last.

We watched as the penultimate boat tipped and was righted twice, as the air got increasingly chilly. When our time came,Mark cunningly sent us into a tack and kept us going, splashing into the cool pool. I’m not sure in a real capsize we would both be laughing quite so much but for some reason both Chloe and I got the giggles as we floated about trying to recall our basic instructions as our wetsuits filled.

Chloe righted us first as I floated in the boat. It was actually quite therapeutic laying there, bobbing around. With a bit of help the boat came over. Chloe was picked up in the safety boat and then it was my turn.

Over we went again. Mark, somewhat reluctantly, had gone swimming too! I’ve never considered upper body strength my biggest asset, and so it proved as I tried and failed repeatedly to get on the centerboard. Twice the sail raised up encouragingly from the surface, twice I fell off, twice the boat splashed back over.

But by this point I’d been in the water about five minutes, it was getting dark and, quite frankly, my mouth was already tasting a ham and cheese toasty so we bowed out gracefully. Cold yes but not half as overawed or panicked as I’d anticipated. I dare say I actually quite enjoyed the whole experience!

Logbooks signed we were handed our certificates and signed up for Plus 1 sessions.

I’ve have genuinely absolutely loved the past five weeks, more than I even imagined I would. I want to practice, which is always a good sign methinks, and I’m already looking forward to the next part of our South Staffs adventure.

Maybe I’m not quite ready to see you all on the racecourse, but in the boat park? Hopefully sometime soon!

After 5 weeks of (mostly) glowing reviews from Karenza, it wouldn't have been fair not to give Mark the opportunity to give his side of the capsize story...

Instructor's Perspective - Mark Nichols 

I checked the weather earlier in the day and the forecast didn’t look great for the final evening of the level 1 course. When I arrived at the club there were some fairly strong gusts rolling across the lake and I began to wonder whether it would be just Karenza and I in the boat or if the chimp would be joining us again. As it was, Roy had already decided to put Chloe in the boat so whether she liked it or not, Karenza was going to have to leave the chimp on the jetty.

Having missed the previous week, I was unsure how much progress had been made but it would seem that the balmy weather and with Martin to give some reassurance, Karenza had regained her confidence and tacks and gybe’s were now just part of the routine.

For many of us seasoned sailors, it is fairly well known that the boom on a sailing dinghy is harder than the human head. This should really be the sixth essential after sail setting, centre board, balance, trim and course made good. However, for those who are just starting out there is a lot of information to take in and sometimes that theory has to be tested before it becomes clear. Whilst attaching the rudder and with sails flapping overhead, this lesson was quickly learnt. Finally, with a lump the size of a small egg just above her eye, we pushed off from the jetty and into session five.

With Chloe in the boat for the first time, I needed to quickly assess how to structure the lesson but I needn’t have worried. The ladies got along really well together and whilst one to one teaching gives the advantage of more time on the helm, allowing a student time to sit back and watch someone else stumble around, get tangled in the main sheet and fumble as they try to bring the tiller handle from behind their back, takes off some of the pressure that they put upon themselves to get it right.

From an instructors perspective it was a really enjoyable way to spend an evening and the time seemed to disappear quickly. Each of the ladies took turns to reach and run, sail upwind, tack and gybe and when the hooter went to signal time for the capsize, both were confidently sailing around the lake, giving way where necessary and calling for water whenever they needed to. Several times we ventured into the plus one training area and I apologise to Ross and Jane for the disruption to their session but this evening was all about getting the confidence levels high and I think that goal was certainly achieved.

The thought of doing the capsize drill is something that brings dread to many students. Cold water shock, the murky water, getting trapped under the sails are often raised as points of concern but as Karenza and Chloe fell out of the boat and into the water, all that could be heard was giggling from the two of them as they splashed around and made their way to the stern. Both ladies made great efforts to get the boat upright again but as the cold water sapped their strength, there was nothing else I could do but to join them in the water. I quickly realised that my dry suit was no longer a dry suit but by this stage I was fully committed.

With the boat packed away, another successful level 1 course had come to an end with just the closing ceremony and the presentation of the awards to complete. Another fantastic course with some great students and by the end of it, a chimp put well and truly back in it’s cage. I look forward to seeing everyone on the plus one and for the Pro Am.

Find out more about the Learn to Sail Course