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Old 04-10-2003, 02:46   #1
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Learn to Sail?

What is a good boat to learn on, or how do I learn to sail? These are one (they’re much the same) of the more ubiquitous questions, I see on this and other forums.
I can think of several Cruisers Forum members who are qualified to offer some interesting & expert advice. I hope you post.

Assuming someone new (or fairly new) to sailing, with a limited budget, several years time to invest, who wants to ultimately go cruising:

For what it’s worth, I’d break the learner choices down into three basic types of boat (remember, I’m no expert):

1. The Dinghy or Open boat:
Optimist, Laser, Olympic 470, Mistral,
etc ...

2. The Daysailer/Weekender (under 25'):
San Juan(s), Catalina(s), Com-Pac, Nor’Sea, Nimble, West Wight Potter,
etc ...

3. The entry level cruiser (24-29 foot ?):

The Dinghy is the cheapest option, offering, by far, the quickest basic experience (steepest learning curve). You will learn more about sailing dynamics in an afternoon aboard a dinghy, than a month (year?) aboard a larger keelboat.

The daysailer/weekender, while more expensive than a dink, offers the opportunity of a small-scale cruising experience, and those differing skills. Generally quite responsive, and, therefor, offering a steep learning curve, the week-ender might be a good compromise between the dink, and the larger (more expensive) cruiser/racer.

An entry-level racer/cruiser is probably most suited to the requirements of an intermediate sailor, wishing to continue the learning process. Obviously, it’s the most expensive of the 3 listed options, but offers a “larger” experience and usage.

OK, you’ve decided which type of boat best suits your requirements and desires - which model do I chose? I’ll let others, more qualified than I, offer specific advice. There are a couple of general guidelines that might help decide.

1. What are the local favorites? An active class association or fleet, will suggest a boat well-suited to local conditions, and the numerous owners will provide a useful resource of expert knowledge. The boat might be easier to sell, as you decide to “move up” (or out, if you discover sailing doesn’t meet your expectations).
2. Beginners should try to acquire a boat that’s, more or less, ready to go - without significant repair or upgrades. Get the best boat, of it’s type, that you can.

Purchasing, and learning to sail your own boat is not the only option.

Formal sailing instruction can vary from inexpensive dinghy sailing courses, through live-aboard cruising courses. At some point, we need to acquire the knowledge offered by the various Power & Sail Squadron courses. I was an experienced power-boater, when we bought our first sailboat (Mirage 26'). We day-sailed, week-ended, and cruised “Auspicious” for a glorious season, teaching ourselves to sail & cruise. The following spring we took a dinghy sailing course - what an enlightenment! More than a quarter- century later, I still remember, and use, many of the lessons learned in the little “Mistrals & Lasers” on Boulevard Lake.

Many people crew aboard others’ boats, especially in club racing events. This includes beginners and very experienced sailors. I cruised for years, and considered myself an “experienced” sailor, prior to crewing on local club races (keelboats). I learned most (of the little I know) about performance sailing from my racing skipper.

Chartering is another option, either crewed or bareboat. For those who already have some experience (Charter Companies require that bareboaters prove experience), chartering can offer the opportunity to extend your knowledge into the cruising realm, and to sample the live-aboard experience.

What’s your opinion?


Gord May
"If you didn't have the time or money to do it right in the first place, when will you get the time/$ to fix it?"

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Old 04-10-2003, 03:44   #2
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Thumbs up Good concise info, Gord.

I have one problem with it. I'll start another thread above so I don't hijack yours.

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Old 04-10-2003, 20:30   #3
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Good suggestions, thank you. I know just where to go for dinghy sailing. I used to live on a large local reservoir & any number of old neighbors will surely let me sail theirs. While I’m out I may even manage to make best buddies of one or two with more substantial sailboats.

Thanks again, Troubledour
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Old 28-10-2003, 17:17   #4
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Be nice to read more stories about how you first learnt to sail.

The pros and cons of your experiences, what you gleaned from them and sharing some of the wisdom you now have.

Be great to read these stories and it might be fun to reminisce and share your stories abourt when you first got out on the water.
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Old 05-11-2006, 07:28   #5
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How we started in sailing

I am sure there are as many opinions on how to learn to sail as there are on what is the ideal sailboat. I can only offer my experience of how I got started in sailing.

My wife and I (prompted by me) got interested in sailing about 5 years ago. We had camped for years on a windswept island called Ocracoke, I had been reading too many books on sailing, so I suggested it and we started the research. Camping in a small tent in the wind and rain is good prep for a boat. We were interested in cruising, not dinghies or racing.

Someone suggested a club, and to our surprise there was the Philadelphia Sailing Club, and it met every month in our home town, Bala Cynwyd, PA. They are a "social sailing" club, and only charter boats for cruising. Consisting of about 300 members, dues are $40/year, they set up sail programs every year, you sign up for the cruises you are interested in and then pay for those cruises. The members come from all walks of life, and age is from early 40's to early 70's.

On the actual trip, there is is always a club member who qualifies as a skipper and an experienced first mate. The rest of the crew is balanced between beginners, intermediate, and advanced sailors. The boats are usually mid-30's to low 40's in length with 6 total per boat. Hunters, Catalinas, Beneteaus, Jeanneaus, but also some older Pearsons, Sabres, Ericsons on occasion. They usually sail on the Chesapeake, out of Havre de Grace, Annapolis, or Rock Hall, but they do longer "exotic" trips, such as British Columbia, Croatia, Australia, the Caribbean, etc. Trips are fun and everyone splits expenses. Costs of basic charters is about $120 per day per person. Food, beverages, any marinas, travel is additional.

While they do not have any certification program, they do emphasize learning, at the pace you are comfortable with. The skippers all have many, many years of experience, some are USCG licensed, and all are excellent teachers. Every spring and fall , there is also a Skills Weekend, where the emphasis is entirely on learning.

This type of club is a great way to get started if you are new to sailing, interested in cruising and don't know anyone with a boat.

In four years, we have sailed over 80 days in conditions ranging from flat calm to 30-35 kts. and 4-6 ft. waves. Along the way we have also taken classes. We have taken the ASA 101 course, and the USCG AUX Basic/Advanced Coastal Navigation course (great course for the $) and we are going to the BVIs this winter for ASA 103/104.

Why classes? Some advise just chartering a boat and going out on your own to learn. We are taking classes not so much for the certification, but the focused, dedicated instruction time. Also, based on advice from some other members, we decided not to take the 103/104 until we had built up experience. Then we would get more out of the class. We have met others, who have their 104 certification (they got it in one of those 7 day all at once 101/103/104 courses) who have almost no other experience and, frankly, a little scary to imagine on a boat on their own.

Next spring, we will start chartering on our own out on the Chesapeake, and will keep working on building that experience level.

Anyway, that is how we got started.

Are there better ways? If you know someone with a boat, who will take you out and teach you, that's great. But you do have to invest the time - one or two sails won't do it. We do know people who sail only once or twice a year for a weekend and have never really advanced beyond beginner. Books and classes are great supplements, but I think it is experience that really matters.
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Old 05-11-2006, 16:46   #6
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Aloha Gord et al,
My experience is this. Red Cross sailing course on old gaff headed 30 ft sloops in Germany. Then 12 ft Wildflower sloops on a lake in Tennessee, then bigger boats in Coronado CA. 14, 16, 22, 26, 27, 44 and then starting to instruct sailing. I didn't own my own sailing craft until 12 years after my first sailing experience, a wonderfull Catalina 22.
I would agree with all your recommendations except I would definitely include Sunfish in your dinghy recommendation. It is the most popular boat in America, is easy to rig, easy to sail and you can take a passenger. Usually can be bought for a bit more than $500. Because it is less tender than a laser but more tender than a 420 you'll learn quickly. If you have an instructor it is even better.
We have 14 of them in our sailing program, then we move up to Hobie 14, Get Away 16, West Wight 19, Reinell 26 and international Folkboat 26. We also have Walker Bay 10s which are good trainers for the more youthful under 120lb variety students.
I've qualified as an instructor for the Navy, for the American Red Cross, and for U. S. Sailing. The best and most thorough instructor qualification training was with the Navy, however, the training that most pretended to be most thorough was U. S. Sailing.
If you can find an old Navy instructor or an American Red Cross Instructor you'll be much better off than the U. S. Sailing program. Sorry that I can't comment on the ASA program because I don't have any experience with it.
Kind Regards,
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Old 05-11-2006, 17:49   #7
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I learned to sail on the water in a basic keelboat type course 3 days.. class room and on the water at Steve Colgate's Offshore Sailing. The boat was a soling.

These boats are pretty responsive...much more so than a heavier racer or cruiser. You certainly can get a feel for the wind and the wave action on a sail boat. The course included all the basics in sailing and navigation, knots and jargon. It was lots of fun and for 3 days quite informative.

There are basic cruising courses which put you in a boat with a real cabin etc, inboard motor and so forth.

I did not have the benefit of moving up or gaining experience on many boats. I took the plunge and bought Shiva right after sailing school. A rather insane thing, but it was like being tossed into the water to learn to swim.

I was extremely cautious and tentative at first as I got to know the boat. But I learned by doing (and reading.. and asking... and observing)... and sailing in all sorts of conditions.

I wish I had a racing friend or a sailmaker to sail with as these guys are usually top notch on sail trim etc.

But all the other bits... systems and so forth... I learned because I had to... and I enjoyed doing everything two and three times until it was right. In the end you have to learn lots on your own if you are going to own a yacht. When you are out there... far from shore... you're essentially on your own.. no?

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Old 06-11-2006, 05:47   #8
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The one that you start with. Something is better than nothing. Smaller is more responsive, it will teach you more, faster. However, if you don't have it. Use what you got.
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Old 06-11-2006, 06:42   #9
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i learnt sailing in almost the same sequence that gordmay mentioned in his opening thread. except i did not get past to part3 i.e. the cruiser part.
i started with the Laser. sharpen up some skills by racing in the in-house races.
then i went on to do a keelboat conversion course conducted by the club. i supposed the progression from dinghy to the keelboat is a natural progression for most sailor. here are some details of the boat used in the course. the boat is Karendia (Class MaXI 77,Length 7.77m(25ft),Beam 2.50m(7.5ft),Draught 1.45m(4.5ft),Tonnage Net 3.0 Gross 4.2,Sail area 25 sqm.Designed by Pelle Petterson. i also crewed in some of the members boats in the in-house races.
moving on a cruiser?... next episode

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