When you grow up fascinated by watersports but live over 100 miles from the sea in the heart of the Black Country, sailing doesn’t seem the most likely escape.

But thanks to OnBoard at Himley Hall near Dudley, last year David Lucas was one of eight Himley novices who went from sailing on one of the smallest, most sheltered lakes in England to racing in the waves of Weymouth at the 2018 UK Byte Nationals.

Not only that but the 15-year-old has taken on the responsibility of being his club’s Junior Rep, enjoying the opportunity to support his fellow juniors and enhance his CV with volunteering and sailing activities that stand out from the crowd.

David got his chance to get OnBoard for the first time on a school reward trip through a Sport England-funded Sportivate scheme that 2015 RYA Club of the Year finalists, Himley Hall, used to run in conjunction with Wolverhampton Police.

Now, having “been liberated” by the whole experience, David wants to keep expanding his horizons, with becoming an Assistant Instructor and getting qualified to support Safety Boat cover on his to-do list for 2019. He picks up the story.

“Sailing appealed immediately as I’ve been fascinated with watersports since I was young, which wasn't very convenient when living so far from the nearest coastline. The first few sessions felt like I’d been liberated, doing something without anybody's help. Sailing's given me a place to clear my mind and gives me peace.

“It allowed me to confront all problems knowing that they would not constantly be on my mind afterwards. You have time to contemplate things and to forget if you have had a rubbish week. You go sailing and none of it matters. I also enjoy the excitement of sailing in the stronger winds and to sail as fast as I possibly can.”

From sedate to sea

At the end of his initial six-week course, David managed to get a boat from another club member and, the following summer, set about restoring it himself. Keen to get more involved and to help benefit other young people at the club, he also took on the Junior Rep mantle, keeping in touch with the club’s junior members and raising any issues at the committee meetings. 

Yet the lure of making the leap from a small tree-lined lake in the grounds of a West Midlands stately home to the daunting open swell of the sea was never far away. When the chance to race at the 2012 Olympic sailing venue at the Byte Nationals arose, David and his clubmates were prepared to do anything to go. Literally.

“We sailed all through the winter, spring and summer leading to the competition,” he continues. “One day in winter we arrived at the dinghy park and part of the lake had frozen. It was extremely cold but we sailed anyway because we needed the experience in the Byte. But it was hard not to think about the Titanic! 

“Then because of the hot weather last summer there wasn’t always enough wind and the lake was like a millpond on some days. This led to a lot of light winds sailing, which enabled us to practice new things without always getting wet.”

To get a feel for sailing on more exposed waters, the Himley youngsters also had two training days at Draycote Water, with David “smiling from ear to ear” as he caught up with the safety boat sailing in the strongest winds they had ever experienced. Yet he admits it was not even close to what they ultimately faced in Weymouth.

He continues: “Going from Himley to Weymouth was at first scary as we had never sailed in conditions like it. When we got there we had a training day in the bay to get used to the constant waves that sometimes came over the bow. It was even more interesting when a large motorboat came past and made even bigger waves!

“We also sailed with some more experienced sailors from the class who were happy to give us tips, which were most helpful. All this and Draycote helped get us prepared for the strong wind conditions we then had on the first day of racing.”

As much as a social experience as sailing, the Himley team spent evenings at the beach, while two to three races a day really pushed the sailors’ physical limits. David described the whole experience as a “fantastic time” that he would love to repeat. But for now he has happy taking what he’s learned to keep giving back to his club.

“At Himley I’ve had many good experiences. Now I feel I’m more competent at sailing in stronger conditions although it’s rare we get the chance to embrace the strength of wind similar to Weymouth.

“This year it might become possible to sail away from Himley again if I get the opportunity and am able to hire a boat on another lake. But at the moment I’m perfectly satisfied at Himley. It’s allowed me to fulfill my watersports dream.”