Jim, do you have to be British to take the RYA courses? I hold dual Canadian/British citizenship, but my wife doesn't, and there's no Canadian equivalent, and foreigners can't take the U.S.C.G. courses, from what I gather.
We were thinking of overwintering in England after we leave and taking the courses then. I know that seems backwards, but we probably won't get voyage insurance here either until we hit a country that understands the concept.
The courses are open to all nationalities-- you just need to show up/pay up, and participate. You can also "enter the scheme" at any point (Dayskipper, Coastal, Yachtmaster) if you feel you have the experience equal to the previous certifications. We probably could have started with the Dayskipper courses, but I'm enjoying the sailing and soaking up local knowledge doing the basic courses first.
There's "on-your-boat" tuition options as well, but it's more expensive since the costs aren't shared with other students.
You can also mix and match coursework from other schools. This winter my wife will do the five days of Dayskipper theory with Capital Sailing
, so I can take the tube to Greenwich for the classes. For the five days of on-water sailing, I'll return to British Offshore Sailing School
(BOSS) on the Solent. I might be able to do one of the 7 day cruises to the Channel Islands, 9 day trips to Brittany, or 2 week Netherland trips to fulfill the practical as well.
It's worth noting that BOSS and other sailing schools offer on-the-water courses throughout the winter, but be prepared for the cold, wet and dark. In some cases, you might leave the slip at 10 and be back at 3, but still be exhausted, I've heard. You might also have to get used to the course pricing, which isn't bad if you pretend the pounds are dollars, but the prices are less in the winter. There was a special rate of only 135 pounds for the weekend I just back back from...
The good part is that sailing here seems to be "higher stakes," meaning that the boats are tougher and it's worth having a solid idea of what you're doing. We're looking forward to the first time we cross the channel (interesting navigation skills are needed), but being with an experienced sailor and well-found boat makes sense.
Good luck with your planning!