Power is wonderful - and when I say power, I’m not so much talking about the latest array of soft-soled electric solutions that only make sense for the full-time taxi boater. I’m talking about the kind of contained explosion that makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck and stomps a massive carbon footprint on the pleasure receptors of your mind.
However, a good day on the water is never solely about the engine. It’s also about exposure to the visceral wildness and unique freedoms of the sea - so how about trying some water-based pastimes that don’t involve a motor? How about smaller bills, less noise and zero fumes? How about eradicating the logistics of the trailer, the slipway queues and the parking issues? And how about injecting about a bit of physical exercise into your day out? Whether it’s money issues, ecological concern or simple curiosity that’s compelling you to consider engine-free recreation, the following seven pastimes might just help ease the crippling seizures of your carbon-comedown...
DISCLAIMER: Please note, you should introduce yourself to these pastimes by means of accredited tuition and professional guidance. Failure to do so may result in frustration and/or pain and/or death.
Coasteering is superb entertainment, particularly in the west of the UK, from Dorset, Devon and Cornwall, all the way up to Scotland via Pembrokeshire (see Preseli Venture) and the rest of the Welsh coast. It basically involves a group of people swimming, climbing, scrambling and jumping their way across a stretch of intertidal terrain, without the aid of a boat.
If this makes it sound like cliff jumping with less likelihood of pain (or indeed, sightseeing with more likelihood of pain), rest assured it’s a much more widespread, well-informed and professionally orchestrated activity than it might appear. It’s also a satisfying way to get up close to the sea and meet new people - and it’s extremely affordable too.
(2) Kite surfing
Imagine wakeboarding without the footstraps or the wake. Now replace the pull of the boat with the pull from a kite and you’re pretty much there. Standing up on the relatively fat board is not especially difficult and neither is controlling the splendidly dexterous kite - but combining the two in a way that has you leaping over the swells like a horny salmon is harder than it looks. Even so, you should persevere. A day of novice training will usually win you enough competence to get you hooked – and the kit is neither as expensive nor as complicated as it looks.
Of course, if the wind is offshore in your favoured location, you have no choice but to stay at home, but our breezy, beach-strewn island is perfect for this sport, so expect the kite surfing boom to continue unabated. For more informatio see British Kite Sports.
(3) SCUBA diving
While my brief spell of diving in the Royal Navy involved being dragged across the hull of a boat on a muddy rope, proper recreational SCUBA is about clear waters, hidden wrecks, brightly coloured marine life and the sensation that you’re flying (which in principle at least, you are). While some of Britain’s coastal waters can be murky, the UK’s unparalleled maritime and military history makes it a great place to dive wrecks.
Of course, given the potential dangers involved, there’s a fair bit of science to understand, but in addition to providing you with access to a truly alien realm, it also brings with it a virtually unparalleled opportunity to spend money on sparkly new gadgets. For more information see BSAC.
(4) Sea kayaking
There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that kayaks were used in one form or another as fast, quiet platforms for fishermen, hunters and travellers as far back as 5,000BC. But like all boats, a modern kayak comes in various shapes and sizes for all kinds of pursuit, so you need to do a day’s training and begin investigating what kind of application you enjoy most. I for instance, have a (slightly insane) friend who fishes for shark off his kayak. He’s taken me out off North Wales for a short expedition, and it’s the long-distance, open-water, self-contained adventure that appeals to me the most.
You can spend an awful lot of money on the gear but it brings a level of intimacy with the sea that few pursuits can match. For more information see BCU.
Windsurfing is a physically and technically challenging form of sailing with an element of speed and adrenaline that few watersports can equal. There are racing, as well as slalom, freestyle and wave riding disciplines, but unless you’re extraordinarily talented, it’s not one of those sports you can pick up in a day.
With speeds in excess of 40 knots perfectly possible for those who know what they’re doing (and speeds beyond 50 knots on record), this is like a fast powerboat without the fuel bills – and it even gets you fit. And I mean really fit. Fitter than you’ve been since your teens. Try it and tell me I’m wrong. For more information see UK Windsurfing.
(6) Stand-up paddle-boarding (SUP)
I have a good friend and colleague at boats.com who has ruined his knees with years of ill-advised adrenaline sports – and yet not only does he love SUP for its serenity, but he also swears by its health benefits. In addition to the power required by your core for propulsion of the board, the joints of the leg are continually required to preserve your balance by means of tiny adjustments. Just make sure you take advice about the right length, width and shape of board or you may find yourself drifting off course like helpless flotsam on even a moderate surface breeze.
Want to find out more? See Stand up and paddle: 10 tips for fun and fitness or go to BSUPA.
(7) Sport fishing
Plucking a joyless stickleback from the icy black waters of a frigid February squall when the rest of the world is safely tucked up in bed is not my idea of fun. It is my idea of insanity. But hunting a marlin on the azure seas of the Caribbean, before pulling it aboard, uploading a selfie and heading home for margaritas and medals? That’s a very different matter.
Of course, a hard-core powerboat, an exotic holiday and a local guide is the ideal introduction – but even those in the UK can enjoy some good sport with nothing but a kayak. Look to the wild coasts of Cornwall, Wales and Scotland and you will be surprised at the big game opportunities that now present themselves. For more information see sportfish. Looking for a fishing boat? Read How to pick the perfect boat for fishing.