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If you want a windsurfing fix in the East Midlands, then Rutland Water is a mighty fine place to go sail. Although it is man-made, it is a haven for wildlife and rich in nature, as well as being a playground for watersports; not to mention supplying water to East Midlands! It is the largest reservoir in England and wind foiling is giving inland locations like Rutland Water a resurgence; foil advocate and local windsurf instructor David Horan and regular Rutland Water photographer Andy Balmford tell us more about its windsurfing scene and their relationship with its waters.

Words  David Horan and Andy Balmford // Photos  Andy Balmford Photography & Sam Buckland.


David Horan – “Rutland Water is a man made reservoir which was formed by flooding two valleys. Construction started in 1971 and was completed in 1976. When Rutland opened it was the largest man-made reservoir in Europe. The reservoir covers an area of over 3100 acres and has a capacity of 124 million cubic metres. The dam at the east end of the lake is 1.2 km long and the maximum depth of the lake is 34 metres. There is a nature reserve at the west end of the lake where a breeding pair of ospreys can be seen in the summer months. Rutland Water has extensive cycling and walking paths around the body of the reservoir, numerous cafes, a cycle hire centre, childrens play parks, mini-golf, bug-topia, an aqua park with inflatable equipment in summer and a bird watching centre as well as lots of space to enjoy a picnic or bbq with friends. The lake is big enough that it really feels like you are in the great outdoors away from it all; and even on those busy summer days on the lake shore you can soon escape any noise by getting out on the water.

The only launch location is at the village of Whitwell on the north side of the lake, halfway between the towns of Oakham and Stamford. Visitors must sign in at the Rutland Watersports centre/shop who provide safety cover. After signing in, you can proceed to the car park adjacent to the water with access directly onto the main sailing area.

Rutland Watersports offer a variety of tuition from complete beginner to intermediate planing and introduction to wind foiling through to sustained flight. They have a variety of kit to suit these activities or tuition can be done on your own personal kit. Beginner and non-planing intermediate kit is available to hire subject to conditions. If you are looking for something to entertain the rest of the family while you head out on the water there are other options at the watersports centre including paddleboarding, kayaking, sailing and canoeing. Other alternatives are the Aqua Park and bicycle hire.

The best wind directions are either west-northwest or east, although you can sail in almost all directions. North is the main exception as it becomes particularly patchy due to the trees on the north shoreline. In a west-northwest the wind blows cleanly down the length of the north arm creating good waves in the middle for those looking to jump and flat water at the sides for gybing and freestyle tricks. In an easterly the wind comes clean over the dam allowing for long runs the width of the main body. Again the middle provides waves for jumping whilst the edges are flat. For budding speedsters, after tacking your way up to the dam the water is super flat and has good wind. Southwest works reasonably well, although to make the most of it you need to sail to the south side of the lake and it’s a long wobble back if the wind does take a turn for the worse.

“When Rutland opened it was the largest man-made reservoir in Europe.”

There are very few hazards at Rutland. The water gets deep reasonably quickly from the edges with very few large rocks to worry about. There is one tour boat which has right of way over all other craft, but this is rarely an issue. The only other thing to be aware of is at various weekends of the year there are dinghy races in the main body, but as the lake is quite large these can easily be avoided by sailing in a different area. With regards to weed this is rarely an issue, occasionally there may be some tight to the edge, but once launched you should be all clear.

On Rutland water the conditions vary massively, sometimes in the same day! As it is a confined area of water, meaning generally smaller waves, the lake is turning into a bit of a mecca for windfoils. The long unobstructed runs with few hazards are ideal for foiling. Also the ability to glide through lulls and gusts which are standard for any inland water make it a great option.

For those not into the windfoil craze many windsurfers choose to use freestyle or freestyle-wave boards. These get up and go early and deal with the chop. When choosing your board size I would recommend something slightly larger in volume as it will allow you to glide a little easier through the lulls and if the wind does drop you will always have enough volume to float your way home. Even in quite strong winds many choose boards of around 100 litres volume.

Rutland water is a busy little spot with a good group of windsurfers to be found by the beach pretty much every day the wind is over 10 knots. Frequently found stood on the shoreline waiting for the next front to blow through or just pulling off a stylish Rutland gybe – i.e. hopping off and turning round before beach starting in the other direction! The local windsurfers are very friendly and always willing to give you pointers and have a chat. Depending on the conditions, sometimes more chat and less sailing! The main tricksters on windy days are Mark Pacey and Keith Ellis trying out a variety of freestyle moves. On the less windy days Steve Bignall, Bee Furber and Bob Sentance can be seen cruising round on foils.

Rutland Watersports is a great place to work with really friendly colleagues who all enjoy time on the water themselves. We stock lots of the smaller bits of kit that often unexpectedly reach the end of their lives: UJ’s, harness lines, uphauls, fin bolts etc. We are also stockists for Starboard, Severne, Ion, Fanatic and North and although we don’t hold larger items in the shop, we are always happy to order things in. The staff are very helpful and if you are stuck they will always lend a hand. The centre has changing rooms for customers which have hot showers year round, which is nice in winter, but can be very busy in summer. There is also safety boat cover provided for all water users offering a bit of peace of mind in case it all goes wrong!

If you are looking for a snack mid-session or a hot drink, next to the beach the Harbour Cafe has various choices, as does the Crafty Fox Café a short walk away. A little further away in Whitwell there is the Noel Arms, a small pub offering food and beverages. If you are looking to explore further around the lake there is the Lakeside Cafe over on the south shore at Normanton offering views over the water or there is The Horse and Jockey, also on the south shore at Manton.”


Address: Rutland Watersports, Bull Brigg Lane, Whitwell, LE15 8BL.
Phone: 01780 460154
Email: [email protected] 
Website: www.anglianwaterparks.co.uk/rutland-water-park/watersports


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David Horan – “I only got into windsurfing just over 6 years ago. I was living on the Isle of Man at the time and working as a landscaper. My wife, Rachel, and I went on holiday island hopping around Hawaii and our second stop was on Maui. We stayed in Paia and went exploring from there. We happened across Ho’okipa Beach and saw people windsurfing, it was pretty amazing to see. I came home to the Isle of Man and decided I would buy some kit and teach myself as there were no windsurf schools at the time (nowadays you can check out Dave’s Waves – daveswavesiom.com for instruction). I sailed on my own for a while whilst I learnt the basics on the local beach, Port Erin. After a month I met a few other windsurfers and began windsurfing more and more. The Isle of Man has a really great scene and the generosity of other windsurfers, especially Neill Clague, helped me improve quickly.

About a year later Rachel got a job at the University of Leicester so we moved to the midlands and Rutland was the closest place to sail. Having the opportunity to change jobs I decided to take the plunge and train up as a windsurf instructor. By this point windsurfing was a passion that had taken over my life. I did a RYA Start Windsurf instructor course and got a job at Rutland Watersports. I enjoyed it so much I soon trained up further and became an intermediate instructor. When foils started coming into production I got my name down early for a Starboard GT foil. Having watched videos on YouTube it looked amazing and I couldn’t wait to give it a go. As soon as it arrived I was straight out on it. A good few crashes later to say the least I was up and flying. The feeling as you take off and the noise falls to silence while you fly over the water was better than I could have ever imagined. I then came across an advert for a foil instructor course and decided I would give it a go. Two weeks in Weymouth at the OTC with coaching from Sam Ross and Tris Best, who could resist?

Since that course I foil whenever the wind is light and windsurf when it gets stronger. I’m at Rutland pretty much every day either to teach or just get out and enjoy myself on a small sail and freestyle board or a foil in light winds. I teach both windsurfing and foiling at Rutland as well as sailing, SUP’ing, powerboating and kayaking.

One of the best days I’ve had was in a west-northwest direction straight down the arm next to the launch location back in around November time. The waves were stacking up in the middle and it was solid 4.2 conditions, and by that I mean some people had changed down to 3.7!. Again I was on my 86 litre, but it was so consistent I wasn’t worried. There was about 30 windsurfers out and almost as many watching. Everyone was getting huge air and carving along the waves. Days at Rutland don’t get much better. I don’t think anyone had anything left when they came off the water!”

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Andy is a part-time sports action photographer based in Rutland but covers sporting events nationally. A Canon user he shoots with 70-200 F2.8L and 500 mm F4.5L lenses with 1Ds Mark III and 1D Mark IV cameras. Andy’s the man behind most of the Rutland shots you see in this article; he gives us an insight into his shooting and history with Rutland water.

Andy – “My first introduction to Rutland Water was back in 2004 when I became a seasonal and weekend safety boat driver and powerboat instructor. Over the last 15 years I have become a beach lifeguard performing lifesaving activities at Rutland Water.

My love of photography naturally led me to sports action with hockey and rugby shooting for the local press. But my interest in watersports and relationship with Rutland Water has created a great fun group with the local windsurfers. I have a good knowledge of wind based activities and am able to sail whilst not able to windsurf, that along with my 15 year safety boat experience gives me a good eye for an impending shot.

The guys and girls at Rutland are a hardy breed and sail in all conditions. With my own favourite set of conditions being 40+ mph westerly winds when the brave souls battle against the elements as the wind blows down the arms of the lake creating huge chop and waves, that’s when the real photos occur. Generally the winter months provide the best action. Summer is foiling and speed runs rather than aerial loops and jumping.

The Rutland windsurf scene is awesome. We have some real characters and although we don’t mix too much socially, there are often groups that head down to Hunstanton and the south coast. Amenities at Rutland are great with showers and changing facilities. Its waters can provide some challenges for both novices and experienced sailors; with winds gusting in storms up to 70 mph at times, it can be taxing!

I can thoroughly recommend a visit to Rutland Water for all levels. The watersports centre provides great tuition and guidance and the launching beach is always alive with old hands willing to offer advice on sail and board size. If you want to know more about the local area, there’s an amazing museum in Oakham, they have an awesome resource bank and are always really helpful. You can check them out on the web at www.rutlandcountymuseum.org.uk.

If you want to see more of Andy’s work then follow Andy Balmford Photography on Instagram – @avbsportsphotography – or check out www.avbsportsphotography.pixieset.com.

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