There’s something romantic about sailing, for sure. Waves gently lapping against the hull, the possibility of dolphins joining the journey, the peace, quiet, and ever-changing beauty of the skyline from dawn to dusk… Yup, taking to the sea on a sailing boat can be a breathtaking experience and, for some, a complete way of life. But what if lapping waves and quiet seafaring aren’t your thing?
Racing is the polar opposite of the tranquility described above, but it is definitely still breathtaking and most certainly something to try if you want to hone your sailing skills or master the art from scratch. Take away any preconceived ideas about the glitz of Below Deck and all the fancy (and expensive) fuel-driven yachts; this is not the same thing. Sailing, as we mean it, is a sporting activity and an adventure all in one, from the very moment you set foot on board. Learning to sail on an island like Jersey is actually pretty easy—not necessarily the sailing itself, but getting involved is simple. The clubs are really inclusive, and the many faces you’ll meet are always super welcoming and eager to lend a hand and point you in the right direction.
We recently had the opportunity to meet Bill Harris, MBE, the current Honorary Sailing Secretary at RCIYC, and a gentleman who has been’skippering’ events, regattas, sponsorships, training, and much more within the community for decades. Bill is like an oracle when it comes to sailing. Working like ‘a well-oiled machine’ Bill and the rest of the team at the RCIYC bring a wide array of events and opportunities for sailors of all ages and levels of ability to participate in throughout the year. We even got involved during the Carey Olsen Jersey Regatta after Bill’s invitation to crew; we just couldn’t resist!
Having been awarded an MBE in the King’s Birthday Honours List this year, Bill has established a reputation for being a driving force behind much of the islands’ sailing in regard to racing. His contribution has meant so much to so many. We asked some of the sailing community to tell us a bit about Bill, and the overwhelming consensus was unequivocally that he is a much-loved hero and a real gentleman who has brought unsurmountable energy and dedication to the sport.
Bill, let’s take a moment to highlight the fact that you are celebrated on this year’s Birthday Honour’s List from His Majesty The King – William Harris MBE – massive congratulations! How did it feel to be recognised?
That was one of those ‘Who, me?’ moments. Once it sank in, I quickly realised the significance of the honour and the degree of the support I’ve received from not only those who were so kind as to nominate me but my family and all those who have worked with me in my various guises to make this recognition possible.
What was it that initially started your passion for sailing/racing?
I had a very gentle introduction when a best friend bought his first cruiser/racer in 1981, Brigand, a lovely Nicholson 24. As novices, we entered every race, made our fair share of mistakes and improved to the point where we started to win after several years. As an ex-Merchant Navy Radio Officer, I had never dreamt of being a yachtsman, having spent so much time at sea already. Yacht racing was a totally different experience, of course, great team work and a lot of fun… This eventually led to me becoming the Lifeboat Operations Manager from 2011 – 2016 for the RNLI St Helier Sattion.
Do you love the peace and tranquillity of sailing most, or is it the challenge of racing that sparks you up?
In the early days, it was racing with its physicality, competitiveness and exciting ambience that really inspired me and still does. However, my views on cruising have changed and my appreciation and enjoyment of cruising has come into full bloom over the years, five years of cruising aboard a Halberg Rassey 42 was very instrumental!
Do you have a favourite sailing event or race? And what would be one of your most prolific racing memories?
Firstly, the RCIYC Waller-Harris 2-handed Triangle race… this was born in 1995 when, as the immediate Past Commodore of the RCIYC, I teamed up with my successor, Past Commodore Rodney Waller, to create a new three-day event for boats with just two persons on board. This usually visits a couple of Brittany ports; this year (the 26th edition held over the first weekend of July) the race went from Jersey to St Cast on the Saturday, St Cast to Binic on Sunday and Binic to Jersey on Monday. The fleet size varies each year; the greatest number of boats was 25, which was some years ago. It’s one of the most popular events in the calendar and has a great following.
The Vendée Globe – The Vendée Globe is a single-handed, non-stop round the world race (24,000 miles) taking place every four years. It is known as ’the Everest’ of yacht racing and is a compulsive event to follow. The skippers are in a different world. We are all looking forward to Jersey-man, Phil Sharp competing in his new boat next year!
One of my own favourites memories would be from the Round the Isle of Wight Race. Several Jersey boats compete in the Round the Isle of Wight Race each year, achieving some pretty decent results on occasion… I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to race on the Scampi 30, Scampalong, with the late Peter Hanning, a past Commodore of St Helier YC, with 20 years of this event under our belts. I can’t remember the year but there were 1,600-ish boats in the race. The conditions were very lively with one boat sinking off the Needles, many blown out spinnakers dismastings and a number of helicopter rescues with Scampalong ploughing on to finish 3rd in her class (30 boats) and 7th overall!
Sailing presents a whole range of benefits, from teamwork to learning a new skill and mastering some important life skills such as first aid or water safety – what are some pointers for anyone who has never sailed but wants to give it a try?
* Learning to sail is fascinating and fun, it can open the gateway to a lifetime’s enjoyment of cruising and racing… and it’s never too late to start.
* Ask a friend who has a boat to invite you out for a sail and persevere. Sailing boats have a confusing amount of sheets, halyards, etc, so it takes time to get to ‘know the ropes’. Don’t be put off (not even by sea sickness).
* Contact/join a club so that you can be pointed in the right direction, depending on your interest (RCIYC, St HYC for cruisers; St Cath’s SC & RCIYC for dinghies; RCIYC for Hobie Cats).
* Get to know people with boats (easier if you are a club member) and show them that you are really interested; there are plenty of owners who are keen to help novices into the sport.
* Once on board, never be afraid to ask questions, show that you are keen and, above all, reliable.
It very well may be the end of the summer season, but there’s plenty still happening when it comes to sailing in Jersey. If you want to find out more, join in, take lessons or become a member at the RCIYC you can head to their website www.rciyc.je .
After our recent jaunt on the water at the Regatta, we’ll be taking to the Wayfarers for lessons and who knows, maybe we’ll be hoisting a Gallery mainsail next year! Many thanks to Bill Harris MBE and the Carey Olsen Jersey Regatta for having us and the biggest congratulations to Bill on his very deserving award.