30 Days of Sailing

Name: Gareth Allen

Occupation: Sailing instructor

How we met: Gareth and I worked out on a pearl boat together in Cygnet Bay, 200km north of Broome on Western Australia’s Dampier Peninsular. Gareth hails from Brighton in England but has lived in Australia for a couple of years, chasing the sun… and the wind. He completed his first Sydney to Hobart Yacht race in 2011 onboard Arctos, which came third in its class.

Meet Gareth:

I work for a Sydney-based sailing training academy who specialise in fast-track, intensive courses in dinghy sailing, windsurfing, yachting and skiing.

My area of expertise is on the yachting side of things.

The students that we take on come from all walks of life – some want a career break, others a complete change of lifestyle, for some it’s a brand new career opportunity. Then there’s those who just enjoy a recreational sail and want to learn more.

The course can be anywhere between six and 16 weeks. Participants can also choose where they do the course – in Australia or the UK, or, a combination of both.

Most students opt to spilt their course and join us here in Australia somewhere around week seven of a 13 week course.  While here they build on what they’ve already learnt, going into greater depth and detail.

Each week is different. Some weeks involve putting in long days and hours at sea to clock up the relevant miles and experience, while other weeks are all about honing the skills of boat handling under power and sail, getting the practise and trying to calm the nerves as they park next to someone’s million pound boat!

The most nervous part of my week is usually between 10-11am on a Monday morning. The anticipation of what the crew have bought and provisioned food wise for the week always keeps a slightly nervous smile on my face. Depending on the types of treats I spy through their shopping bags (many of which make my eyes light up) determines whether it’s going to be a good week it not.

There have been weeks when even the most mature of crew have not had a clue what to buy to make four lunches and four dinners for themselves on a boat.  I’ve been asked “how do you boil an egg?” on more than one occasion!

Each week is usually quite tiring and can be intense, depending on the weather, the people, your management of their personalities and abilities, and of course being in a confined space with complete strangers. 40ft might sound like a lot but it’s pretty damn small

It’s pretty much a 24-hour job because I’m responsible for the boat and the crew 100per cent of the time whilst we are away from our home port.

Towards the end of the course there is a two-week block which is scheduled as a mile builder. (Students need to have 2,500 miles under their belt for the exam) This is often where the real adventure spark for sailing gets ignited.

Within the 12 days we have to complete 1200 miles (all weather dependant) and usually complete skippered passages (each student has to complete two passages over 60 miles as a pre-requisite for the exam). We can take as many as 10 crew on these trips using a 55ft yacht designed for offshore sailing.

A lot of people have the impression that Sydney and Australia’s coastline is blue skies and turquoise water all the time. Yes, at times it can be, but more often than not it rains at least once in the 12 days. And when it rains, it really rains!

It’s amazing how much the weather can change peoples’ mood and perception of things. Usually once the weather clears up the crew begins to enjoy the challenges of life at sea and sailing constantly; Sleeping for three hours then getting up for three hours as part of a “watch system” regardless of what’s going on outside.

Highlights are sometimes the achievement of sailing through rough weather, making difficult night entries into different ports and we’ve even managed to cross the Bass Strait a couple of times.

Every student is unique. Each time at least one of them delivers a level of ability and determination that is totally unexpected. Others present themselves with the challenges of group dynamics and personalities clashes but when you are in a space 55ft long and 10ft wide there isn’t much else to do except deal with it. Everyone begins to come into their own and understand themselves as person; Where their limitations lie and how far their confidence, ability and attitude can take them.

One of the reasons so many people (including myself) have a love of sailing and being on the water is that you get to see so many different sights that you can never experience on land. The sun setting and Venus- the first visible start in crystal clear view together; Dolphins that look like glow-in-the-dark torpedoes at night as they effortlessly swim through the bow wave; Whales whose breaching can been seen from 10miles away; The Milky Way like you have never seen it before.

It’s at these times I usually sit still for a minute or two and have to pinch myself. I am truly fortunate to see such happenings, to be able to do something I love and enjoy, meet such amazing people AND get paid to do it.

I tell people everyday I am one of  a small percentage who look forward to going to work each morning. Even when the weather is bad I’m happy. You just put the right clothing on. As they say in the sailing world: There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.





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