Meet Sunsail's Chief Instructor

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Say ‘HI’ to Karen Rawson

Karen’s been sailing since she was a nipper and she just so happens to be Sunsail’s Chief Instructor. We caught up with her to talk about her life–long love affair with sailing, her favourite cruising grounds and how the industry’s changed over the years.

Q: So, Karen, when did you first get into sailing?

I started when I was three years old, sailing dinghies with my dad. For me it was like learning to walk – I don’t remember it as such; it’s just something I’ve always done.

Q: And have you always taught people to sail or is it something that you got involved with later?

Until 15 years ago, I raced and I’ve been teaching since 2000. I’ve never not sailed, but before I started sailing as a profession, I was a personnel manager. One day I decided that I’d rather do something I’m truly passionate about. I left to go sailing and I’ve never looked back.

Q: If you hadn’t become a sailing instructor, is there anything else you would’ve loved to do?

Honestly? There’s nothing I’d rather do. I love sailing and I’m incredibly lucky to be able to do something that I love for a living. Plus, there’s so much variety in what I do. I’m leading the race management team for Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week and then there’s the work we do with charities. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve got the best job in the world!

Q: What would you say is the most rewarding part for you?

When people who’ve never been on a boat start learning to sail, even if the weather’s rubbish, they start smiling and you can tell that they’re really getting into it. We took a group of 14-year-old girls out on the water – it was windy and the boats were bouncing around, but they had a blast!

Q: And what has been the highlight of your sailing career?

After 120,000 miles at sea and four transatlantic crossings, there have been a few. If pressed, though, I’d say being back on dry land after the six-week ARC Europe Atlantic Rally in 2002. I love being out on the water but it felt good to be back on terra firma. In 2013, I was selected to be a Cruising Instructor trainer, one of only 40 people worldwide. And last year, my friend Erica and I took Richard Hammond out on a sailing course – it was a great week’s sailing and really good fun.

Q: What’s your favourite sailing destination and why?

You can’t beat the Solent. The tides, the wind, the weather – each time you head out it’s different. My other favourite destination is Croatia - it’s the polar opposite. It’s laid-back, easy to navigate – perfect for a chilled out, relaxing holiday. I’m going back in October!

Q: What’s your favourite boat type to sail?

I think our fleet of Match First 40s are amazing – they’re so versatile. They offer an incredible racing experience, real edge-of-your-seat stuff. Then, when you’re teaching, they’re great training boats. I also love the Sunsail 444 catamaran. I know there are lots of sailors who won’t go near a cat, but if I want to relax, unwind and enjoy my holiday, the 444’s fantastic. It sails nicely and it’s great for socialising as well.

Q: Being a sailing instructor must be pretty demanding, but what do you do to relax?

I have a dog – he’s a Hungarian Wire-Haired Viszla called Gibbs (named after the NCIS character). I’ve been working pretty much non-stop since around May, so when I get time off I like to spend it with him.

Q: How do you think the sailing industry has changed during your career and is it for the better?

I think that sailing is far more accessible now than it’s ever been. People, who previously thought that they weren’t capable of learning to sail, that they didn’t have the time or that it was too expensive, are now discovering that it’s absolutely possible. That can only be a good thing.

Q: You’ve no doubt met some interesting characters in your line of work, but is there anyone who stands out in particular?

Everyone that I meet is a character – they all have their own personalities. Part of why I love the job so much is that I get to meet so many new people.

Q: How would you sum up what sailing means to you?

To me, sailing is a way of life. It’s not just a sport or a job or a hobby – I live it every single day.

Q: And is there any advice you wish you’d been given when you first started sailing?

When you’re learning to sail for the first time, find out what the instructor is wearing and wear that. Many a student has turned up on a sunny day in shorts and a t-shirt and ended up regretting it.

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