Boating Atlantic 2019

Learning to Sail in Atlantic Canada

Sign up for lessons, join a crew, and be part of the yacht club community.

 by Suzanne Rent

Judy Robertson grew up along the shores of North West Arm in Halifax. Her neighbours had a sailboat and she remembers waiting for them on the wharf to return. Robertson says her family has been members of the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron since it opened generations ago. “It feels like there’s saltwater in my veins,” she says. Robertson first took up sailing when she was 10 and has been sailing, racing, and teaching ever since. She taught sailing at Club Med and developed a program called Wet Feet for kids ages five to eight to learn how to sail. She’s raced in several Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Races and her family, including two young daughters, spent nine months sailing from Nova Scotia to ports around the Caribbean. She’s a principal instructor with Nova Sail (www.novasail.ca). Robertson has taught every level of sailor says it’s never too late to learn. “Just dare to do it,” Robertson says. “If you’ve been thinking about it, just do it. You’re never too old. You can take it up when you’re 50 or 60.” Taking lessons at any age is a good start and there are clubs around Atlantic Canada where you can sign up. But Robertson suggests anyone wanting to sail should also learn navigation on paper charts, take part in seminars to learn about offshore training, if that interests them, and learn how to sail on different kinds of boats, starting with the smaller boats first. And practice, practice, practice. “Every time you go out, you learn something new,” she says. “Never think you know everything. Be open to learning more.”

Cody Morris started sailing when he was nine years old, inspired by family friends who had
boats and often went sailing in the Shediac Bay in New Brunswick. He’s now the president of
Sail New Brunswick (www.sailnewbrunswick.ca) and is Sail Canada learning facilitator, evaluating
and certifying new and existing coaches across Canada. His job is to promote sailing in
New Brunswick. Morris says most people learn how to sail for a combination of three reasons: Sensation of being part of the wind and water and creating your own power;social aspects and sailing with friends; or for competition and racing as a sailor. Morris says the trends in who’s learning how to sail often changes. In New Brunswick, he says there’s an increase in young kids learning how to sail. But he says he also sees adults taking on the sport, too, inspired by their own children’s lessons. “The parents are reaching out to their kids and sharing something they’re both passionate about,” he says.

The physical requirements needed to sail depend on what kind of sailing you’re doing.
For recreational sailing, the athletic ability is less than if you’re competing. Morris says those
sailors who move on to competitions often require significant upper body, core strength,and stamina. But he encourages anyone to start at any age. “There’s a starting point for everyone,” Morris says. “It’s like any other sport; you just have to start.”

Sailing lessons for kids and adults are available at yacht clubs around Atlantic Canada. But
beyond lessons, Morris says there are also club members and sailors willing to teach those who
are interested in learning. “No matter where you go in Atlantic Canada, there’s someone who knows how to sail,” Morris says.

Robertson agrees and says yacht clubs are a community that are supportive of each other and aspiring sailors. Robertson says it might just be a matter of walking down to the wharf of your local club and asking a member about going along on their boat or joining a crew for Wednesday night races. Aspiring sailors in our region have no lack of access of water or sailors. “The collective knowledge at a yacht club is unbelievable,” Robertson says. “I bet nine times out of 10 they will say yes.”