With the wind in your hair, starboard ho!

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 July, 2012, 12:00am


The sky was clear blue and the sun was bright on the morning I set out on my maiden voyage from Middle Island. My instructor was Chan Yu-ting, centre sailing instructor with the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club (RHKYC).

My boat was a Wayfarer, a model with a long history which is usually used to train beginners. Coach Chan prepared the boat by setting up the sail and the jib, then we had to check the bung, or plug, at the aft, or back of the boat, was closed to make sure the boat wouldn't sink.

According to the coach, there are five key factors affecting performance in sailing: sail setting; course made good (or choosing the best way to finish a course); balancing (right and left); trimming (fore and aft balance); and lastly, the use of the centreboard, a fin at the bottom of the boat that helps steer it.

Finally it was time to get onto the open water. At first, I acted as a crew member, watching what Coach Chan did, and later took over the duties as helmsman.

Determining the windward and the leeward side is another important skill in sailing. From time to time, I had to switch sides, moving from sitting on the port (left) or the starboard (right) side of the boat as the wind direction changed. I also needed to control the rudder at the same time. No daydreaming is allowed on a sailing boat, as you're fully occupied with different assignments at every moment.

Coach Chan was very patient and I tried my very best to take in all her advice and remember her instructions. She also helped to correct my posture, both to make me a better sailor and to ensure I'd look good in the photos and video footage.

The photographer and videographer were following my Wayfarer in a speedboat. This certainly added to the pressure, but deep down, it made me feel extremely cool. After all, how often in life do you get chased by a speedboat if you're not the sort of person who gets in trouble with the police?

As they say, time flies when you're having fun, and after a couple of hours, at around noon, we sailed back to the dock. This time we tried leeshore landing, which is when you put your main sail down and let the wind blow you back to shore. This isn't seen in sailing races, as it's much slower than sailing at full speed, but it's far safer for beginners.

It's always exciting to try something new, but learning to sail in such nice surroundings, with a professional backing you up, is especially awesome. It was extra rewarding to hear Coach Chan say that she was satisfied with my performance; she described me as a 'sailor demonstrating sense in sailing in such a short time, willing to take challenges, being able to do what I say, and he has a strong waist.'

Trying my hand at this challenging sport has given me a new respect - I salute all the participants in the RHKYC Interschool Sailing Festival that I met. Competing in the sea requires a combination of excellent physical fitness and mind games - never an easy task.

Some final tips: remember to wear sunscreen (don't forget the back of your neck!), and drink plenty of water to avoid heatstroke.


Even though sailing had been used as a means of transportation before Christ, sport sailing didn't happen until the 17th century, when the Dutch first began to explore yachting. About 1660, Charles II introduced it to Britain and the sport eventually spread to the American colonies.

Gradually, sailing as a social and recreational activity became a regular occurrence, and groups called yacht clubs were formed. The oldest club was founded in Ireland. The New York Yacht Club is now the oldest continuously existing club today.

Sailing became increasingly popular, and yachting in difficult conditions became a widespread form of entertainment.

Major racing events include the America's Cup and the Transpacific Race.

The basics

Sailing is all about speed and tactics. In a competition, points are given according to the position of the boats - the fewer points the better.

There are two categories in Olympic sailing: fleet, and match racing.

In fleet racing, several boats race at one time. The person in first place receives one point; the first runner-up receives two, and so on. In the final, or 'medal', race, points are doubled. The total points after the Medal Race determine the final winner - the participant with the fewest points.

In match racing, only two boats race against each other at one time. At the Olympics, this sort of racing applies only to the women's Elliot 6m event. Twelve teams take part in a round-robin stage; the winner in each race wins a point. The four lowest-scoring teams are eliminated for the next round, where teams race each other in a series of races.

There are different rules for different types of boat, but some rules apply to all races. These include doing a false start and obstructing other racers. Penalties for breaking the rules include extra points or turning the boat 360 or 720 degrees.

Bluffer's guide

Terms to convince people you know what you're talking about ...

Fleet race: a competition with at least three participants

Match race: two competitors racing each other; aggressive tactics allowed

Port: the left-hand side of the craft when looking forward

Starboard: the right-hand side of the craft when looking forward

Fore/aft: front/back of the boat

Windward: against the direction of the wind

Leeward: in the direction of the wind

Tacking: a zigzag move needed when sailing against the wind, as you can't steer directly into the wind.

Helmsman: the person who steers the boat

Jib: a smaller sail, usually at the front of the boat

Ones to watch

Ben Ainslie

Ainslie is the star sailor on the Great Britain team, winning a silver medal at his first Olympic Games in 1996 when he was 19. Since then, the

35-year-old athlete has collected three gold medals in the past three Olympics and will be aiming for his fourth in the Finn class in his home waters.

Anna Tunnicliffe

Tunnicliffe, 29, made Olympic history in 2008 as the first person to win gold in the solo Laser Radial, a new event, and the first US woman to win a sailing gold medal in 20 years. In London, she will be competing as part of a three-person crew in women's match racing. Her team is ranked number one in the world.

Peter Burling & Blair Tuke

The up-and-coming pair are New Zealand's top crew in the 49er races. Burling (top), 21, and Tuke, 22, each won world championships as individuals before they were 20. They most recently won silver at the 49er world championship in December and will be looking to win more medals in London.


Men's Finn: medal race August 5, 1pm (HKT: 8pm)

Men's Laser: medal race August 6, 2pm (HKT: 9pm)

Men's 49er: medal race August 8, 1pm (HKT: 8pm)

Men's RS-X: medal race August 7, 1pm (HKT: 8pm)

Women's RS-X: medal race August 7, 2pm (HKT: 9pm)

Women's Laser Radial: medal race August 6, 1pm (HKT: 8pm)

Go sailing

Hong Kong Sailing Federation Tel: 2504 8159

E-mail: hksf@sailing.org.hk


HK Schools Sailing Association E-mail: info@hkssa.org


Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club Tel: 2239 0362 E-mail: sailing@rhkyc.org.hk


Check out our brand new YouTube channel to see Kevin ride the waves


Special thanks to RHKYC

Additional reporting: YP cadet Sophie Cheung