Ready, Set, Sail!

10/07/2013 11:08 BST | Updated 08/09/2013 10:12 BST

Combine together 14.7˚C air temperature, 16.7˚C sea temperature, 99% humidity, 15.5 knots of speed, a 250 degree wind, and a wave height of 0.5 metres and what do you have? Well yes a lot of numbers but also the formula for a pretty decent day's sailing last Thursday in Southampton!

As I mentioned previously, I spent one afternoon last week out on the water giving a sailing lesson to the six 16-18 year old winners of a national maths competition. At this point those of you who have not read my earlier post might be scratching your heads a little, trying to see where on earth I connect in with maths, or maybe my first paragraph was enough of a clue?


For some, it is not an easy connection to make. In fact the reliance of sailors on good old fashioned mental arithmetic is often underestimated, with most people expecting a whole range of gadgets and gizmos to be doing most of the mathematical legwork. Often however the only gadget you are equipped with on the boat is a compass - meaning that my maths GCSE qualification has certainly been sorely tested over the years in the pursuit of my career.

For this reason, in a country where maths skills are frequently reported to be on the decline, sailing is also a great demonstration of a way in which Children can use their maths skills in a totally unexpected environment, not just from behind a desk or in a lab, but out at sea.

Last week the nationwide winners of the Transversal Maths Challenge made their way down to Southampton so I could teach them the ropes. The conditions were perfect, if a little breezy, but the high wind speed meant that what was meant to be an initial 'introduction to the sea' quickly turned into a full blown sail over to the Isle of Wight.


Though it was their first time sailing for most of the winners, everyone soon found their 'sea legs' and came together as an impressive crew that first day. It wasn't until the following day however that the competition really began as the students were given the opportunity to put their new skills to the test by taking part in the Transversal Charity Cup.

Initially the prospect of being one of 11 boats racing from Port Hamble (Southampton) to Cowes (Isle of Wight) was slightly overwhelming, but armed with the previous day's training and my slightly competitive prep talk the students were ready to race!

Of course each boat had a full crew ready to offer each other support when needed, but success as a sailor often relies upon your individual ability to read and react to the conditions out at sea. With three race stretches in total, all varying in depth, wind speed and wave length the students had to adapt their tactics each and every time as they responded to what nature was throwing at them.

Throughout the two days I was massively impressed by the youth sailors abilities - even if they might have had a slight edge due to their teacher! However it was the skills they displayed that can't be taught that surprised me most, such as their confidence on the water, their teamwork and leadership abilities and their maturity out on the sea.

Fortunately for you and I, you do not have to be an A-Level qualified mathematician to enjoy sailing, but judging by the skill of my teenage crew last week, it certainly would help!