With the 10th largest coastline in the world, between us, we own 560,000 boats including kayaks. NZ has a lot of keel boats compared to other countries because they are most suited to the types of conditions we get here and these vary hugely in size with a large chunk of the population owning small boats. Although prospective sailors are not required to get a licence or any kind of qualification before they get out on the sea, most tend to do at least do a course.
Mention learning to sail in New Zealand and Penny Whiting's name, which is virtually synonymous with learning to sail, will invariably come up in conversation soon afterwards. Penny runs a sailing school over the six months of every summer attracting students aged from 20 through to 75. This year Penny's Auckland-based sailing school will celebrate its 45th anniversary with more than 33,000 people having been through it over that time.
The biggest issue Penny finds people have with learning to sail is being able to commit the time. Her courses consist of five sessions of three hours maximum on the water because over the years, she's seen that three hours of information is just about as much as people can absorb in a session.
New Zealand Weather
"With the Auckland weather, conditions can change really quickly and people can sometimes get a hell of a fright if they're not ready for the wind or the tide to turn. They can be so put off they never take the boat out again.
"At this time of year, the conditions are great, the weather is fine and the sea calm, but come October, November, December it gets pretty wild out there."
Everyone can learn to sail
"Last week," she explains, "I had a couple of 73 year olds on the course. Adults really enjoy seeing and understanding that they can do something that they never thought they could and I love seeing that. I love seeing people getting a taste of the freedom and the sheer joy that sailing can offer. Like many other sports, the terminology is scary, but when you see it in practice, it makes sense.
"I just love teaching people to sail because they learn. I love seeing them learn and they learn best by doing it and being with other beginners seeing how they do it."
"Sailing is about timing, not strength and a large part of the course is on understanding the weather and the conditions and how to do jobs on the yacht with ease and when they are going to change. People with better skills don't take as many risks."
Penny is a big advocate for adults learning on a big boat before they sail a little boat.
"It's different for kids, but for adults, big boats are much easier to sail than little boats because you can see things happening in front of you, you don't need to bend down or duck or do things on your knees."
If you want to learn how to sail her advice is to get on a course and learn with other people learning. She is a big believer in the strength of group learning: "It really works because you see other people doing things right, see them doing it wrong and then you get to have a go at doing it yourself."