The Royal Yachting Association Scotland is encouraging pupils to chart a new course and get out on the water, writes Roddy Mackenzie
The Royal Yachting Association Scotland is keen to offer new horizons to schoolchildren. With the Scottish Schools Sailing Association having run aground in 2001, RYA Scotland has taken on board the remit to get children out on to the water.
Olympic champion Shirley Robertson, who grew up in Dundee, had her first taste of sailing while at school, on the River Tay. Now RYA Scotland wants to see what fresh talent it can find.
Last month, it launched a Sailing in the City initiative to get children to try their hand at the sport. The first taster event, at Queen's Park in Glasgow, attracted 72 children between the ages of eight and 14. Similar events are planned for Edinburgh (at Craiglockhart pond tomorrow and Sunday), Aberdeen and Inverness, with outreach programmes to the Outer Hebrides and Argyll and Bute.
"We take the children out on the water for an hour and give them an introduction to sailing," says Jane Scott, the governing body's development officer. "We show them such things as paddling and steering and, if it's not too windy, we get up a sail. It depends on the weather, but we always try to get a sail up to show them how it works."
After the tasters, the children are given the opportunity to go on courses to learn basic sailing techniques.
Ms Scott emphasises the importance of the initiative for schools sailing.
Although many private schools have sailing clubs, teachers in state schools find they do not have the time or expertise to take children sailing.
She has been delighted at the response of local authorities, who have been quick to support the initiative to expand outdoor education opportunities.
"We have found it is much better to go through the authorities rather than direct to schools."
She has also been heartened by children's initial reaction to the initiative, which is jointly funded by SportScotland, local authorities and RYA Scotland. "The response to the first Glasgow taster was phenomenal," she enthuses.
Last weekend some of the Glasgow children who had participated in the initial session took the stage one course, an introduction to the boat and capsizing. RYA Scotland wants to put interested children through both stage one and stage two, which focuses on boat-handling skills and the aerodynamics of a craft.
"It goes without saying that our primary concern is always safety," says Ms Scott. "The courses have fully-qualified staff and we have all the essential equipment, including a rescue boat with our trailers."
She is hoping that 800 children across Scotland will be put through the basic courses within the next few months. "All we are doing is giving schoolchildren a start and, hopefully, a few years down the line, we will have a schools' sailing programme," Ms Scott explains.
"We'll be looking at the best way of going about that and how we would give training to teachers. It's difficult to set up an after-school club in sailing as there are issues with transport and such things."
With 153 sailing clubs in Scotland, there is no shortage of venues for children to attend once their interest is sparked. RYA Scotland sees the new programme as the first rung on the ladder and hopes it will complement school schemes that operate in pockets of the country.
The Port Edgar club in South Queensferry, Edinburgh, has weekly dinghy sailing sessions for youths which involve state and private schoolchildren.
The Loch Morlich watersports centre at Aviemore works with local primary children. The Clyde Cruising Club in Glasgow has recently expanded its activities and will have an open day at Bardowie Loch on June 12 for children interested in dinghy sailing.
The Olympic Games in Athens this summer should also help to stimulate interest, particularly if Ms Robertson can add to the gold medal she won in Sydney, Ms Scott says.
"The good thing about the scheme is that the children all progress through the stages as groups, so they are with their school friends and not learning with strangers," she says. "The hope is that they will get a quality experience.
"After that, we hope they will have the enthusiasm to go on to develop their skills with local sailing clubs. Of course, not all of them will, but we will have given them that initial experience and it is something they may wish to come back to in 10 years or so.
"First and foremost, we want them to enjoy the experience. We're looking at their long-term view and it is something they can come back to in the future."