A course that's plain sailing
A SAILING school in the heart of land-locked Stoke-on-Trent is attracting dozens of students who want to learn how to cope with life on the high seas.
The evening classes take people through the theory side of handling a boat, navigation, wind speeds and knots, meteorology, and safety techniques.
The classes are proving increasingly popular, buoyed by interest from team GB's phenomenal success in water sports during the 2012 Olympic Games.
The sailing school is based at St Thomas More Catholic College, in Longton, and is run by instructors from the Royal Yachting Association (RYA).
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Some of their ex-students have gone on to join the Navy, sail round the world, charter holiday yachts and motorboats, or simply enjoy a weekend hobby on the water.
Principal instructor Phil Webb said: "A lot of people do the courses with a view to buying their own boat or sailing with others.
"During the summer, we can fix them up with a trip on a boat so they can learn the practical side.
"They can be equipped to deal with anything at sea. They could skipper a boat through an off-shore passage or take it into harbour."
People who own their own boats don't need qualifications, although they are required to hold certificates if they hire a boat.
Phil, aged 69, from Bignall End, believes learning the theory is crucial.
His love of boats dates back decades and he has been running the RYA classes for more than 20 years, alongside fellow instructor Malcolm Jennings. Over the years, they have trained at least 400 seafarers.
"I like the solitude of sailing. You can get away from the pressures of life. When you get in a boat, it's a different world," said Phil.
The RYA offers two 24-week theory courses – a day skipper one aimed at beginners and a yachtmaster's certificate for the more advanced.
People can also qualify in first aid and radio work.
Carl Edwards, from Stockton Brook, is one of the proficient sailors taking the classes.
The 47-year-old, who runs a FedEx operation in Leek, said: "I've owned different sailing boats over the years. But I don't have one at the moment.
"I've sailed in the Menai Straits and around Anglesey, and chartered a yacht in Greece in August. The great appeal is you see countries from a different perspective.
"Doing the course has reinforced things for me and given me more confidence."
Friends Adam Tatton and Mark Finnemore, who work together at Trentham Lakes-based automotive design firm Mirage Ltd, are less experienced on water.
The pair signed up for the classes after clubbing together to buy a motorboat.
Adam, aged 25, from Blythe Bridge, said: "We keep it in Conway. But we are hoping to take the boat to the Mediterranean this year.
"Going out on a boat is fun. It's a group of friends and you have a good laugh.
"Doing the course helps you learn a lot of basic skills."
To find out more about the sailing school and its courses, visit www.stmss.co.uk.