Rutland Pride

Sailing on Rutland Water

Experiencing sailing is a breeze thanks to an inclusive, knowledgable, friendly and welcoming community at Rutland Sailing Club, who recently invited us along to enjoy a taste of what Rutland Water has to offer

Sailing on Rutland Water
Sailing on Rutland Water

The sheer number of idioms deriving from sailing is really surprising. Being ‘at a loose end’ or ‘on the right tack’ are among the more obvious ones, but to be overwhelmed refers to ‘qhelmen,’ an old English term for turning upside down or capsizing. The etymology of the word posh, meanwhile, referring to elegance or luxury, is thought to be a nautical acronym refering the ‘port out, starboard home,’ the more comfortable and desirable of accommodation – out of direct sun – when sailing between England and India.

My recent education in sailing was not limited to the etymology of its words and phrases though, as we joined Matthew Botfield and Ashleigh Reeves for our first taste of sailing. 

My preconception was that sailing at Rutland Water would be very wet and more oriented towards competitive sailing. So, to prove that it could also be a more enjoyable, leisurely (and dry) experience, we were overjoyed when Rutland Sailing Club directed us towards Matt’s 2018 Sedna 24, a comfortable lifting keel cruiser of 7.5 metres, with all the mod cons; a couple of double bunks and a small galley.

It wasn’t the sunniest day – around 6°c with a wind somewhere in the region of 11-16 knots or four on the Beaufort scale – but with a couple of windcheaters, we were warm, comfortable and most of all, we were really well looked after by Matt and Ashleigh, who got us on board and ‘showed us the ropes.’ There we are; yet another sailing idiom.

Matt lives in Leicestershire and was introduced to sailing at the age of 12 whilst attending a local youth club, very quickly discovering an affinity with the activity both for leisure and sport, competing in the Schools’ National Championships in 1984. 

He’s been a member of Rutland Sailing Club since 2009 and as Pride goes to press, he’ll be enjoying a seven-day sailing break, taking his boat, Imogen, down to Southampton in order to sail around the Solent, taking in Cowes or Bembridge, depending on conditions.

Rutland Water, meanwhile, is a brilliant resource for those keen to try sailing, whether in a larger cruiser, a dinghy or one of the foiling boats or wingboards on the water during our visit.

A 1968 Act of Parliament gave the go-ahead for the creation of Rutland Water, which was originally to be known as Empingham Reservoir prior to a petition by local schoolgirl Jane Rutter. Rutland Sailing Club was, in fact founded in August 1969, some years before work on clearing the site that would become Rutland Water began in June 1970, and before the filling of the reservoir commenced on 6th February 1975 (that also took a while; the reservoir wasn’t full until 1979).

Today the reservoir has a surface area of nearly 4.2 square miles, and holds over 124,000,000 cubic metres of water, up to 30 metres deep and set in 3,100 acres of countryside. The club, meanwhile, held its first AGM in 1973 and had about 450 members back then. Today there are 1,000 members (including 250 family memberships), a third of which are female, 30% over the age of 65 with 68% of members stating they sail for relaxation and social interaction, rather than with competition in mind.

That’s not to say Rutland Water isn’t a great facility for competitive sailors though, offering club racing fixtures and training as well as accommodating teams like The Rutland Raiders. It’s also one of just five RYA (Royal Yachting Association) advanced Sailing Academies, specialising in providing RYA-affiliated training for adults and youths.

Matt’s cruiser, meanwhile, is ideal for more of a leisurely experience of sailing even if the principles remain the same. He was very patient despite my constant barrage of ‘what does that rope do?’ questions. 

With my wife and I equipped with lifejackets, Matt eased us away from the pontoon with a small electric outboard motor and into the reservoir just off the Edith Weston shoreline, with wind speeds of between 17 and 21 knots, (a force five wind); ideal conditions for getting a bit of a shift on.

First impressions were how quiet the experience was and how gentle and enjoyable the movement of the cruiser moving through the water.

Much like an aeroplane wing, the idea of sailing is to ensure the Bernoulli effect; high pressure airflow behind the sail, and a low pressure airflow in front of the sail, utilising the keel beneath the boat for stability, steering using the rudder and using the jib – the smaller sail at the front – for balance. 

One of the elements of sailing I thought would prove the most nerve-wracking was sitting high up on the side as the boat leaned over. In fact it turned out to be the best bit, and we were soon swapping from port to starboard and having a great time.

The water is well-used but safe thanks to rules on when and how to give way, and there’s a variety of people enjoying the reservoir in many varied boats. Wingboarders looked a bit chilly, but the dinghy sailers were having a great time and there were a couple of boats out with members of Rutland Sailabilty, the group established over 25 years ago to ensure an accessible sailing experience for those with disabilities, also providing training right up to Olympic level.

Our adventure must have seen us travel six or seven miles, with Matt constantly talking us through what observations he’s making – the darker ripples of water indicating stronger winds for example, or why he was adjusting the sails. The route took us to the reservoir’s limnological tower, past Normanton Church  (for a wave at the visitors) and then back towards the sailing club. It was a really enjoyable, comfortable and bone dry experience thanks to the expertise of Matt and Ashleigh.

If, like me, you’ve always looked at those enjoying the water with a degree of curiosity – perhaps even envy – the club offers everything from taster sessions to RYA training. Neither age, nor fitness, nor lack of experience are prohibitive factors, it’s definitely an experience we can recommend… and one that we’re keen to repeat very soon!

With thanks to Matthew Botfield and Ashleigh Reeves who gave us a taste of sailing on board Matt’s Sedna 24 lifting keel cruiser. We really enjoyed the experience and we’re very grateful for your time! Rutland Sailing Club is friendly and accessible for novices and experienced sailors, offering tuition and taster experiences too. For details call 01780 720292 or see