An insider's guide to the county's best kept secrets
Where to find it
Norfolk Etc sailing centre can be found in Morston near Blakeney on the main coastal road through North Norfolk. On the quayside near Morston Creek, the school is situated in an excellent location for both learning to sail and pleasure charters. Sailing around the estuaries and harbour, it is extremely safe and has the added bonus of being close to Blakeney Point, a wildlife haven for grey and common seal colonies as well as a protected nature reserve for terns and other birds.
What to expect
In 2007 James and Victoria Cowan embarked on the task of developing a sailing centre with a difference. Their goal was to achieve a school of excellence for teaching combined with a relaxed environment for all to enjoy the waters. Several years on now, their dreams have flourished into what is a fine service for all. Whether you’re a local looking to learn how to sail for pleasure, a thriving youngster keen to gain qualifications and race professionally, or a holiday maker wanting to experience the beauty of Norfolk via boat; this is a one stop centre for all your needs.
Immediately obvious from the start, James and his assistant Hannah care about exceeding your expectations and aim to please. They take pride in the business they run and are helpful, personal and put you at ease, adapting their approach to meet the varying knowledge and ages of their crew. They have developed a business that effortlessly compliments the area of nature they sail in, preferring to use boats that have been made locally and reflect the history of Norfolk. They offer a huge variety of sailing options for adults and children from age 4 upwards, with 14 tutors operating from April/May to the end of October.
The experience of sailing
I asked James if he ever gets people who try sailing and don’t like it. He said in all his years of taking people out on the water, he has never known anyone who didn’t enjoy it, and I can understand why. There’s something magical and natural about sailing. It’s hard to put a finger on what exactly but it’s such a peaceful pursuit; a sense of leaving your troubles on land and fleeing from civilisation to just be, in a natural environment away from stresses of life. Back to basics, the elements of water, wind and tides override your senses and consume you, bringing both a deep sense of calm and a feeling of euphoria as you skim the waters. It can be exhilarating at times; your boat tips as you tack with the wind, it being your job to control your sails to upright you vessel once more and make use of the full effect of the wind. You’re guided at every moment and always feel supported as you learn the feel of the boat. It’s addictive and refreshing and leaves you desperate to get back on the water and experience it all again.
Gaining sailing qualifications
Whilst the emphasis is on fun, the centre is fully recognised by the Royal Yachting Association and Adventure Activities Licensing Authority and offers courses from complete beginner through to performance racing and instructor certificates. Children and adults can work towards various qualifications from age 7 upwards (no maximum age) either by three or five day set courses or individual tuition tailored to specific needs. A ‘Start Sailing’ course involves the fundamentals of preparing a boat for sail, wind awareness and effects of the tide, whilst a ‘Basic Skills’ course teaches you rigging and rope work, capsize recovery and aerodynamic theory. For the more advanced there’s sailing with spinnakers and performance racing courses as well as development sessions and cruise days.
Sailing for fun
It’s not all about studying though; there are plenty of options for those of you that just want to be on the water and have fun. Tiny tots aged four to six can enjoy an ‘Adventure Sail’ where they can pull the ropes and steer the boat, play pirate games and shout land ahoy! Families can take a skippered charter out to see the seals or go gillying in a crabbing boat.
With a variety of sailing dingy to choose from, from the rugged, stable and spacious Norfolk Oyster (made by Neil Thompson in Glandford) to the Stiffkey Cockle, and flexible Laser Picos for youngsters, there’s a boat, a course and a day out that’s perfect for you. They even do power boating if the whole sail thing doesn’t appeal. Whichever way is right for you, my advice is get out on that water with Norfolk Etc – you’ll be trimming your sails and goose winging along the waters before you know it, bombing along on the wind with a smile from ear to ear.
Norfolk Etc provide full safety life jackets and water proofs and can adapt their teaching to those that cannot swim. A three day course costs around £320 and a five day course around £440. A private 90 minute lesson costs £68 or £83 for two people/£100 for three people and over. A skippered charter is £85 for up to six people and a kid’s adventure sail is £58 for four hours. Visit their website for a comprehensive breakdown of sailing options and prices and check out our What’s On events listings for dates of current courses.