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Best summer holiday clubs for teens: We road test the Sunsail Youth Sailing Academy

At last - something better than screens!

Sophie Vokes-Dudgeon

As we approached the Sunsail marina in Port Solent to deliver two 15 year olds, Finn and Hugh, to the yacht that they'd call home for the next five nights, I felt a sudden pang of excitement (and jealousy!). Four years ago we’d made a similar trip - although ours was in a Greek marina - to find the catamaran we would spend our first ever family sailing holiday on.

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And that was when our family's love affair with sailing began. After spending a week being sailed around the most stunning spots in the Ionian Sea by our wonderful skipper, we all vowed to become sailors and come back one day to do it ourselves. While the adults have made a bit of an effort (we're RYA1 - we’ve a little way to go!) the kids have really gone for it.

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The first view of home for the next five days

And as I tried to wrack my brains for a good summer holiday activity that would get my eldest, Finn, away from screens and back to nature after a very difficult year of remote learning, I decided that a week on a yacht, even if it wasn’t on the glistening Ionian Sea, could be a great option.

I discovered Sunsail - the same company who we'd taken our Greek flotilla holiday with - hosted five-day sailing schools over the summer holiday, from Portsmouth. Finn, who had earned his RYA4 certification on the less salubrious stretch of the Thames, thought graduating to Competent Crew on the Solent sounded like fun. His friend Hugh was eager to come along for the ride, and their mothers were hopeful that a week on a yacht might give them both a break from the cooped-up, tech-heavy year they'd spent courtesy of Covid.

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As the boys will recount below, their week onboard their 41ft yacht, sailing around the Solent, stopping off on the Isle of Wight, and learning both how to sail and how to do all the chores that came hand in hand, was the most incredible adventure. And though it can be tough to get teens to talk about anything, their tales of night sailing, the awe of creeping up on a 400 meter container boat in the Solent, and the feeling of exhilaration as their yacht 'almost capsized' whilst heeling, came pouring out of their mouths on the journey home to London. Clearly it had been all we had hoped for and more.

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Helming a 41-foot-yacht is an experience a 15-year-old won't forget

Over to the boys to give you their verdict on the "best ever" summer holiday club.

What was the first night like on board the yacht?

Hugh: When I arrived I was quite nervous as it was the first time I had been away from home on a trip for a long time due to Covid, but I was greeted by a very friendly instructor who made me feel at home. Altogether there were seven of us, two instructors and five of us on the course. The instructors had the two rooms at the back of the boat and we had a double bed that doubled up as the kitchen table, a single bed that doubled as the sofa and a cabin for two at the front of the boat.

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This definitely beats screen time!

Finn: At the very beginning meeting the other people was slightly awkward, as was expected, but after exploring our yacht, eating spaghetti bolognaise and playing some card games, everyone quickly settled in. Over the course of the week, everyone got to know eachother better because of the frequent ice creams and walks at the marinas - and playing games and chatting over meals.

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What did you learn and what chores did you do?

Finn: I learnt all about the yacht we were on and how to operate it. We all got to have plenty of goes helming the boat when we were under sail and when we were under motor and when we weren't helming, we were controlling the gib sheets we tacked. We also learnt how to moor to a buoy and a pontoon among many other things like tying many knots.

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The boys headed over to the Isle of Wight for a couple of nights

Hugh: There were many chores to be done during the week for example cleaning the deck. This was a daily chore to be done when we moored up in the afternoon and consisted of hosing and brushing down the deck. We also had to make all of our meals, these were usually pretty simple such as pasta and a sauce, and sandwiches for lunch, but they really hit the spot! Another chore we had to do was washing up, this was usually done as a group, someone washes and everyone else dries, this resulted in a very slick operation!

What was your highlight?

Finn: The highlight of the holiday for me was the night sail in Southampton when we left Town Quay Marina as the sun was starting to set. Unfortunately for most of the sail, we had to use our motor, but at one point for a short time, we got our sails out and started sailing with the sunset as our backdrop. The views of the sunset from the water were beautiful and the experience of a 400m long container ship passing us by was unique and incredible.

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A night sail on the Solent was unforgettable

Hugh: For me, the highlight was on the last day when the wind really picked up as we hadn’t had much wind during the week. The boat almost capsized as the wind carried us along, just going below deck was rather nauseating as the tipping was quite extreme. Tacking was extremely fun as it required a lot of focus to be done effectively. That day gave me the best insight into yacht sailing compared to the previous 4 days.

Would you want to go back?

Hugh: I would most definitely want to go back, there is a more advanced course after the one we did and I would really like to do that. I had a great time after the initial nervousness wore off. Everyone was really friendly and when the weather allowed, the sailing was amazing. I think that having a friend with you really does help as it is much easier to begin with until you get to know everyone, so if I was to do it again I would most definitely do it with a friend again. But overall it was an amazing experience that got me out and about which was awesome.

Finn: I definitely want to go back next year as it was so enjoyable and I learnt loads, meaning I can do the more advanced Day Skipper course once summer comes around again. Some of the other people there were very inspiring as some wanted to go on some long courses to eventually become crew on a super yacht and I think getting paid to travel the world sounds incredible.

Sunsail's Youth Sailing Academy trips also run during half terms and Easter holidays.

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