August’s issue of Yachting Monthly is a Family Sailing special with stories of cruising with babies and young children to sailing with reluctant teenagers.

August’s issue of Yachting Monthly is a Family Sailing special with stories of cruising with babies and young children to sailing with reluctant teenagers.

In keeping with the spirit of our family focus, YM’s Emma Martin caught up recently with some of Britain’s leading sailors from Olympic stars to Whitbread round the world veterans and discovered that they all started out by sailing with their families.

Ben Ainslie

In 2000, Ben Ainslie won his first Olympic Gold medal in Sydney. Ben was eight years old when the Ainslies moved from Cheshire to Falmouth and sailing became a way of life for the family.He did not have any formal training — first-hand experience handling boats at an early age, combined with a natural flair and parental support gave him the start he needed to become the acclaimed sailor he is today.

Ben would like to see more underprivileged children have the opportunity to get involved in sailing. “Sailing is great on all levels— it is a social sport, competitive but always welcoming novices. England has some of the best dinghy national classes and its reservoirs are easily accessible for a huge percentage of people.”

Neal McDonald

2003 Fastnet champion Neal McDonald started racing when he was 12. Neal’s father had a Graduate dinghy at his local club, Warsash SC on the River Hamble.

“I remember going to school on a Monday,” Neal recalls “and all my friends talking about what they did over the weekend, playing football and so on. They never understood what this whole sailing thing was all about.”

“Club sailing is the answer,” says Neal. “You can rent a Foxer — a great little dinghy suitable for all ages and experience, with room for all the family — on the River Hamble for £10-£20 per day; that’s cheaper than a round of golf. “There are many ways to get into sailing. I strongly believe that children should be allowed to explore boats freely and discover sailing without any pressure from Mum or Dad. I’ve witnessed too many parents jumping up and down on the foreshore as their child nervously attempts to get to grips with the new £10,000 Optimist they have just purchased.”

Neal speaks of how sailing helped him through school, giving him goals, great social skills and a healthy competitive attitude which has remained with him throughout life.

Shirley Robertson

After 12 years sailing single-handedly and having taken a Gold Medal at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, Shirley Robertson is now heading off to Athens with her three-woman keel-boat crew for her fourth Olympic campaign.

She has fond memories of her first boat, a GP14 kit boat. “My dad built it in the garage whilst I was a child and to this day the resin still remains on the garage floor as proof of his labour!”

Shirley first set sail at Scotland’s Loch Ard Sailing Club in the heart of the beautiful Trossachs. Her first-ever regatta was during her teens at Linlithgow where she recalls spending half her time capsized.

“I was never pressured into sailing — it was a natural progression. I enjoyed messing around in the boats at Loch Ard and the social aspect of it was fantastic as a child.”

Shirley believes that sailing is a good social leveller. “It teaches you teamwork, independence, self-confidence, responsibility and good sportsmanship. It gives you a sense of commitment and a strong work ethic but we must not forget how much fun it is too.”

YM wishes our Olympic team fair wind at Athens in August.