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Open Day with Antrim Boat Club

Posted on August 18, 2021 @ 11:29 AM in Canoeing

Arriving at a water sport open day can initially feel slightly daunting. Your mind tends to tell you that not only are you surrounded by seasoned pros, and you are literally the only person who won’t be able to do the activity, but that the activity itself is going to be way beyond your capabilities.

In reality, an open day is literally for beginners. There are going to be plenty of people in the same boat as you (ha!), excited to dip their toe (ha!) and feeling like they haven’t a clue what to do.

That’s where clubs come into their own.

Water sports clubs have a structure that understands the needs of people that are trying a sport for the first time. So, when I arrived at Antrim Boat Club who were running an introductory open day as part of the #GetWet campaign, it took only a minute or two before a friendly member stopped to ask if they could help.

“I’m here to try the gig boat?” I don’t really know what a gig boat is, but the girl smiles and tells me where to wait.

A short time later we’ve met our crew. Katie, Michael, Fintan, Rachel and Deirdre are an amazing advertisement for their club. They’re like the cast of a cool TV show, each with their own unique style and approach. After helping us on board, we pushed off from the dock and set out into the belly of Lough Neagh.

The departure was a lesson in itself – the gig boat needs rowed, and at probably 30 feet long with a relatively small crew, that means a BIG row. It’s a full body movement, synchronised by Katie who took the lead for this section of our trip.

Whilst a small part of me felt bad that I wasn’t pulling my weight (again, literally – water sports really lend themselves to these sayings) it was hard not to fall in love with the feeling of heading out into the water with a crew that really knew what they were doing.

A few minutes later and everyone swapped places on the boat to raise the sails and Michael took over the command.

He explained this group had been sailing together for years abroad and had competed (successfully on numerous occasions) while representing Northern Ireland.

I got sucked into the joy of sailing as Michael explained all of this, particularly as we got further out from shore and the relaxing swell of the Lough rocked us gently back and forth. The rest of the crew were able to relax as well now, sitting down for a chat and a laugh while Michael continued to explain the various parts of how the boat worked.

For a beginner, he explained, it would all be relatively straightforward to start. They would do just as we were doing – coming out with a crew and watching what they did, but mainly developing a love for the feeling of being in the water. Gradually, you will be given small jobs to do – help to row, hold a rope etc. – until you feel comfortable with those. After that, there are any number of things to go on to learn and specialise in, from tying knots to hoisting sails, to directing the operations.

It genuinely was fascinating, and this from someone from land locked Omagh where a water sports club seemed like a foreign concept.

After a while, the weather was beginning to make its presence known with a couple of warning rolls of thunder. Even that though made for good fun, as the crew laughed at my no doubt slightly concerned face.

Getting off the boat, I was left with no doubt as to why someone would want to join a group like Antrim Boat Club.

Their base of operations is a lovely secluded bit of land that lends itself to some incredibly dramatic sunrises and sunsets. They have a club house, currently being renovated, with all the facilities you could imagine (including a very reasonably priced bar) and great connections with all of the other local groups involved in the water.

If you want to give yourself a treat, please try the club out. Contact them on Facebook, explain that you’d heard about sailing and you’d like to give it a go and I promise, you’ll not regret it.

Ethan Loughrey
Ethan Loughrey  Mountain Bike Officer

Hardest thing about Mountain Biking? Definitely the trees.

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