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All aboard: Sailing across Kep’s beach

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The Discovery Centre helps train Cambodian youths who aspire to be future sailors, athletes and sailing instructors. Hong Menea

All aboard: Sailing across Kep’s beach

A novice at sailing, Nuon Soksarim was caught in a moment of panic as he jumped aboard the sailboat, the breeze hitting his face. Fortunately, with a little bit of training, he managed to navigate in the open sea.

“Sailing across the sea was a fun experience. I had goosebumps all over my body, caused by a mixture of excitement and anxiety as I don’t know how to swim. Thankfully, I was able to rely on my instructor and the safety equipment,” says Soksarim, who immediately rejected the idea of sailing alone.

These days, sailing has moved to the fore – from being considered a rare and extreme sport in Cambodia to being a leisure activity, which tourists can enjoy at the Discovery Centre of Kep’s Knai Bang Chatt resort.

With more than 17 years under his belt, sailboat instructor Neil Wilkinson says the Discovery Centre is a facility that houses the only sailing club in the Kingdom.

“I wanted to sail the waters because, in my five years in Kampot province, I have never seen anyone doing so. It was quite a shock to see an expanse of water but with nobody exploring it,” says Wilkinson, whose sailing career has taken him to the waters of France, Turkey, Kenya and Australia.

“[Cambodia] is really nice. The waters are relatively calm and safe for those who wish to try sailing. There are no rapid currents, no sharks or rocks, and the water is shallow.

“People can still sail safely even during monsoon seasons where there are very strong winds,” he says.

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Sailboat instructor Neil Wilkinson says the Discovery Centre is home to the only sailing club in the Kingdom. Hong Menea

The sailing facility is open seven days a week from 8am to 5pm. Beginners can learn how to sail with the help of experienced instructors, while non-amateurs are first asked to do a five-minute sailing test on the water.

“The boat we use is a Hobie Cat. It’s a reliable boat that can be manoeuvred across all directions. Its design is similar to that of an aeroplane. We have two different boats. Each can load two people but if the winds are quite strong, each boat could carry at most four people.

“We also have the Optimist, the standard sailing boat used by children. Through this, we are able to teach the children techniques that they could apply to any type of sailing boat. We also have kayaks and standup paddleboards, which are perfect for when there is no wind.

“It is important to check the weather every day. Wind is central to sailing. Sailing without wind is like trying to drive a car without gasoline,” says Wilkinson.

With only one existing sailing club, the Discovery Centre helps train aspiring Cambodian sailors who could potentially represent the Kingdom in the future.

“I use the skills and knowledge I’ve acquired over the years to teach people about things they never knew. Maybe one day, through my guidance, they could represent the Kingdom,” he says.

Despite being the only club of its kind in Cambodia, the group is ready to take on the herculean task of spreading the love of sailing among youths, who can then compete in the international arena of sporting events.

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Knai Bang Chatt resort offers tourists the experience of sailing across the coastal waters of Kep. Hong Menea

“At Knai Bang Chatt Sailing Club, we carry the goal of creating professional sailors among the local youth and introducing them to new and beautiful experiences that coastal Cambodia has to offer,” says Jef Moons, the founder and CEO of the Knai Bang Chatt resort and its sailing club.

John Black, the general manager of Knai Bang Chatt hotel and the sailing club, says he was delighted to add another mission to the company’s corporate social responsibility programme.

“Sport is slowly awakening in Cambodia and the thought of being able to introduce sailing to Cambodian youth is one that is very exciting indeed,” he says.

How quickly one can grasp the sailing techniques, Black says, depends on the individual and the instructors.

“Some people pick up on things rather quickly, with only three lessons – two beginner’s sessions and one intermediate session. Trainees first train on land with a simulation, then in water to learn how to navigate the boat across the sea and safely bring it back to shore.

“Anyone skilled in sailing can travel around the world. Ideally, I’d say a trainee would need four lessons but, again, it depends on the individual,” says Wilkinson.

Wilkinson noted that Cambodian youth who are keen to learn the sport to fulfil their dreams of becoming sailors, instructors, or athletes in the future can learn at the centre for free – an initiative developed as part of their social responsibility.

They can come from anywhere in the country as long as they send me an email expressing their interest, says Wilkinson.

Knai Chang Batt resort, a destination whose name means solar eclipse, also boasts another popular leisure activity – the sunset cruise. It’s where people can bask in the sight of one of the nicest sunset views in the Kingdom.

After safely reaching the shore, Soksarim’s anxiety was quickly abated as he received much praise for his sailing skills.

“What I can say is that the beautiful beach of Kep offers a rather fun and exciting activity. I will find some time in the future to sharpen my sailing skills,” says Soksarim.

Discovery Centre’s sailing club offers different sailing lessons and adventures. Costs vary according to the boat – sailing on the Optimist costs $20 an hour, Wave 13-ft catamaran ($30), T2 16-ft Hobie Cat ($50) and windsurfing on the Starboard with 5.5-m sail ($20).

For more information, visit the centre’s Facebook page @discoverycentrekep or contact 078 333 685.

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