Flying start for British Keelboat Academy

Spinnaker handling weekend kicks off BKA 2024 training
06 Feb 24

Two keelboats flying spinnakers with low winter sun casting a glow over the sails and water at Queen Mary Sailing Club.

The first training weekend of the year for the British Keelboat Academy saw the 2024 squad developing skills and teamwork at London’s Queen Mary Sailing Club.

Sailing both the club’s fleet of RS21s and Royal Thames YC’s new Sonar keelboats, the weekend including learning about both symmetric and asymmetric spinnaker handling.

It was also an opportunity for the BKA’s latest intake to get to know each other and their coaches.

The BKA provides a pathway into keelboat and yacht racing for young sailors aged 18-24, and nearly all of this year’s cohort are former youth or club sailors from a dinghy background.

The conditions were kind for their first training weekend with a calm 5 knots of breeze building to around 12 knots on the Saturday, and an average of 8 knots of wind on the Sunday.

Learning environment

Phil Devereux, lead coach for the weekend, said: “We had really good conditions with a bunch of young enthusiastic sailors, who were fully engaged and wanting to work things out and develop their skills. It was also great to see bonds and friendships being forged over the weekend.

“Keelboats are new to nearly all of our recruits so there was some nervous excitement for the weekend but the conditions were ideal for getting to grips with the boats and crewing, and especially useful for the Sonars as hardly anyone had any experience of symmetric sailing.

“It was non-stop for the coaches but if we have no free time because we’re answering questions that’s really rewarding and hopefully it was a useful learning environment.”

Group picture of British Keelboat Academy squad 2024 comprising around 40 sailors and coaches.

Expert insights

Among the BKA sailors taking part in the weekend at Queen Mary SC (27-28 January 2024) was 21-year-old veterinary medicine student Ben Salva, of Rickmansworth SC and Glasgow University SC.

Ben, whose sailing background is in ILCAs and university team racing, started his transition from dinghy to keelboat sailing last season but wants to progress his skills further with the BKA and aims to get into offshore racing.

He said: “It was brilliant weekend and really good to meet the rest of the people in the squad and the coaches. We were learning the feel of the boats and how to set them up well. There’s such a wealth of knowledge across the coaches and the BKA teaches you so much.

“One of the coaches was Paralympic gold medallist Helena Lucas with all the tips and tricks about having a backstay and the fine details about rig set up. The BKA gives you the opportunity to sit down with the coaches and ask, ‘how does that work and why do we do it like that’.

“Although I already have experience of yacht racing, I’ve only had opportunities to do bow. Over the weekend we cycled through all the roles including helm, mainsheet, bow, pit, jib and downwind trim, so it was good to try the different positions and explore other avenues in keelboat sailing. I’m really hoping to hone my skills on bow and become a more versatile sailor as well.”

BKA recruit Ben Salva on shore in British Keelboat Academy branded blue sweatshirt and red hat.

Knowledge & networking

The 2024 BKA comprises around 40 sailors following a selection weekend at Portsmouth in November 2023, which included onshore technical workshops and a chance to try keelboat sailing.

Next up for the squad is an offshore weekend at the end of February, followed by an inshore yacht racing weekend at Port Solent/Portsmouth, 2-3 March 2024, with a focus on working in bigger teams, navigation and boat speed.

Other weekends will include high-performance sailing out of Cowes on the Isle of Wight, 13-14 April 2024, when teams will be working on acceleration and decision making.

The BKA also has online knowledge sessions and provides invaluable networking for sailors wanting to gain the confidence and connections to compete across a wide range of disciplines, including match racing, the British Keelboat League, inshore and offshore racing.

Find out more at British Keelboat Academy and look out for applications opening again for the next cohort in summer 2024.

Team of five sailors working together to sail an RS21 keelboat.