'The most exhilarating feeling': When I went sailing without any experience

Sailing is an expensive sport but is gaining traction in Dubai as it has become more accessible to the general public


Nasreen Abdulla

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Photos: Supplied
Photos: Supplied

Published: Fri 19 Jan 2024, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 19 Jan 2024, 10:47 PM

When you hear about a fun day out with friends, most people first think of a mall, an arcade or a park. But imagine spending two hours in the clear, blue sea, experiencing the thrill of sailing right here in Dubai. That is the opportunity I got earlier this week with the company Wind Rises, that is on a mission to popularise sailing among the masses in Dubai.

Arriving at the bay at Port Rashid along with five of my friends, we were shown into the office where we were given a briefing on what to expect. Having never even seen a sail boat in our lives, the technical terms were hard for us to remember or understand. My friend Ninu, who did not know swimming had only one question — what happens if the boat tips over and we fall into the water?

Instructor Ross Mackinnon.
Instructor Ross Mackinnon.

“It is impossible for the boat to tip over,” assured our 19-year-old instructor Ross Mackinnon, pointing at the diagram of the sail boat. “It has a bulb at the bottom of a keel that will keep the boat upright no matter how hard the wind blows.”

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Satisfied, we all donned out life jackets, fixed the complimentary sunglass straps and off we went, without knowing a single thing about sailing.

A “relaxing” experience

The 28-feet-boat uses a motor to get into the middle of the water. Once it reached there, Ross switched off the motor so that we could use the wind to sail. Then he demonstrated how to unfold the main sail.

All the while, one person had to stay by the tiller. Akin to a driving wheel in a car, the tiller controls the direction of the boat and has to be readjusted according to the wind and the waves. Two of my friends took turns at it while the rest of us helped out in other parts of the boat. Once we had been afloat for a while, it was my job to unfurl the Gennaker sail. I balanced myself at the front of the boat while Ross untied the sail. I then pulled the rope and hoisted it. I have to admit, it was the most exhilarating feeling to pull a rope and have the giant sail unfurl and flap in the wind.

Once we had sailed one way — called downwind in sailing terms — for an hour or so, it was time to sail back — or upwind. For this, we lowered the Gennaker sail and hoisted up the jib sail, under the expert guidance of Ross. We even tacked — or changed directions — of the sailboat twice. While sailing upwind, the boat tends to keel or tilt to one side very much. So all of us friends move to one side while Ross stayed on the other side.

Sailing away to glory

One of the best parts about the entire experience was how Ross could understand the most minute change in water and wind direction. He changed the tiller directions ever so slightly, every now and then.

Beginning to sail at the age of 10, he could manoeuvre the boat expertly. Arriving in Dubai just four months ago to join a group of other experienced instructors at the company, he said he was impressed with the city but felt like the sailing community needs to grow. “Sailing is an expensive sport and that is why a lot of people are hesitant to try it out,” he said. “That is why we try to make it more accessible to the general public.”

With prices starting at Dh300 per person or Dh1500 for a boat, Wind Rises runs sailing trips four times a day every day. Over the weekend, it also runs sailing races where even newbies can join along with an instructor.

When we arrived back at the jetty, all of us were flushed with excitement. The changing of the sails, the controlling of the tiller and the keeling were all brand new experiences for us. We could understand why people got hooked on to sailing because we were already making plans to return for a weekend of racing.


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