Fifty six members of the British Keelboat Academy got together for the first time this past weekend to begin their training as part of the long standing RYA transition programme.  

Saturday was all about covering a wide range of technical knowledge and the sailors were helped on their journey by experts from across the marine industry.

Based at North Sails production loft in Fareham the sailors were split in to three groups and attended three one and a half hour workshops on various topics.  

Harken UK brought along several winches for the sailors to take apart to see exactly how they work and given tips and advice on what to look for when you think there might be an issue.

Matt Eeles from B&G brought in some instruments and lead the sailors through a presentation showing what information could be found in on board electronics.

Mark Mathews gave the sailors a crash course in carrying out emergency sail repairs using the items they should hope to find in an on board sail repair kit.  

After the sessions at North Sails the group headed to Port Solent to find their berths on board their Sunsail Match First 40 for the night before quickly heading to the Marriott hotel for the evening.

David Mossman from Marlow Ropes gave the sailors the lowdown on current rope technology and how to get the best from those ropes and to look after them properly before tucking in to dinner.

After dinner, round the world racer Hannah Diamond discussed ten lessons she had learned from ten years of full time racing in a very insightful and honest presentation which touched subjects such as resilience, if in doubt, ask and learning when to say no.  

After a cold night tucked up on the Sunsail boats with the heaters on the sailors gathered for a morning brief which included another session on packing sails correctly for deployment.  

The teams then locked out of Port Solent and headed for the Solent while being briefed by their coaches and mentors.

With varying standards on board each boat from sailors returning to the programme for their second year to sailors who have only ever raced single handed dinghies, each boat did their own specific exercises ensuring that each sailor was getting the most from the day.  

It wasn’t long before the competitive spirit was out in force though and three quick practice races had been run allow the sailors to put in to practice the lessons they had learned in the morning.  

After a long weekend the sailors headed back to Port Solent, debriefing the days lessons on the way and looking towards how they want to learn going forward.  

Niall Myant, BKA Head Coach, said: "It's always great for the coaches to meet the new sailors each time the academy starts, and now that the first weekend is complete we are busy building our weekends around their skills and ambitions. Being based out of North Sails, and having a chance to work with some of the hardware and systems of high end boats was a great way to begin. Over this winter we will be on the water training hard, learning the techniques needed to join top level racing teams, I only hope our coaches can keep up with the sailors.”  

Simon Hall, a 29er sailor from West Kirby, was impressed by the opening weekend: “Wow, safe to say I think this is going to be one of the coolest sailing programmes I’ve been in. Coming from a dinghy sailing background I never quite realised the vast number of roles and things to learn like in the talks from North Sails, B&G, Harken and Marlow. I look forward to all the opportunities that I know the BKA will present over the course of this year’s programme.”  

RYA Keelboat Development Manager Jack Fenwick wrapped up the weekend: “We have been working hard on continuing to develop the BKA programme this year and I am incredibly happy with the results so far.  

"We have built a great coaching team and are now incorporating mentors who have graduated from the BKA so that they can pass on the lessons and contacts that they themselves have gained from their time in the BKA. I am looking forward to see this group of sailors develop over the next few months and I can’t wait to see them on the start line come spring, I only hope they don’t start beating me on the racecourse too soon.”  

For more information about the British Keelboat Academy go to www.britishkeelboatacademy.co.uk or facebook.com/BritishKeelboatSailing.