Chichester Yacht Club’s Will Dodd reminisces about learning to sail in and around Chichester Yacht Club and his recent Atlantic crossing with ARC

My first memory of sailing was trips on our family yacht. Growing up with a sailing enthusiast as a father, it was a very large part of my childhood. I remember being taken out into the high spring tide shallows over the Club slipway, in a club Oppie on a leash! An exercise in which I knew I wouldn’t last long.

I was given my first Optimist when I was around 6 or 7. It was a red, wooden boat and after watching my father fix parts with such skill and ease, I called it Doddle. I felt really ready to take it out on my own by then and quickly progressed on to racing, to push that fragile little boat to the limit! I was quite a shy and insecure child at that time and sailing really helped me to gain confidence in myself. I particularly remember a photographer being out after one racing day and deliberately positioning myself next to his RIB to get my photo taken. My grandfather bought the photo and it was seeing myself sailing in that photo that spurred me on to progress from the bath tub.

Eager to move on, despite warnings that I was far too light, I hired Club Toppers as often as I could, whatever the weather! I broke those boats so many times, pushing them to their limits, sailing it horizontal from the dagger-board in a force 6 on one occasion……maybe several. I was constantly sneaking in and out of the club workshop under the bosuns’ noses to fix parts, going back out to race and breaking them again! By 15 I had tired of the Toppers and was looking around for something more exhilarating to sail.

One of the great things about growing up in and around a sailing club like Chichester Yacht Club is the motivation you get watching and learning from more experienced sailors. At this time Matt Ponsford was my sailing idol and he had a International Moth so that’s what I wanted! I spent ages on ApolloDuck and Mothmart trawling the pages for something I could afford. I finally found a Moth; a red 1970 Magnum 5 low-rider made of the old plywood and fibreglass laminate, in desperate need of repair. I persuaded my father to help me rebuild it and that became our Winter project. I had amazing days going out in that boat with my father revving alongside in a dinghy and helping me when I capsized. It’s still in the dinghy park now!

My experience of learning to sail in and around the Club, and the confidence and boost that gave me as a child, was my main motivation for becoming an instructor. When I was 16 I started as an Assistant Instructor to Hattie Culver and I learnt so much working with her. Over the last few years I have thoroughly enjoyed delivering both RYA courses and private tuition at CYC. I just love to give kids the opportunity that I had to gain confidence and grow in themselves through sailing.

Sailing really does provide you with the most amazing life experiences and, by responding to a poster I saw in the Clubhouse last summer, it allowed me to to take part in an ARC crossing of the Atlantic towards the end of last year….for free! An experience I will never forget. The ARC is a ‘must do’ for many sailors, and attracts over 200 sailing yachts and 1200 people every year to sail almost 3000NM across the Atlantic from Gran Canaria to Saint Lucia. The prep weeks were great fun, not just surfing every day, but getting to know everyone and overcoming challenges like how to pack enough food on the boat for a possible 3 weeks of high seas. Hanging a car tyre sized bunch of bananas in the blazing cockpit was a minor error, though thankfully one among few. I travelled on a 55 foot Beneteau Oceanis cruising yacht with its owner and two of his friends. You get to meet and socialise with such a wide range of participants of all ages, from all around the world.

The opportunity to join the ARC crossing came at a time when I needed to reflect on my next steps in life and I found it an incredible place to free the mind, find clarity and understand what I wanted out of life. There’s no experience like seeing the horizon around you each way you turn for 16 days straight. It’s almost hypnotic. I’ll also remember the wildlife, having dolphins with us pretty much every day, and the sunsets. If you like sailing, an Atlantic crossing has to be on your bucket list!