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Old 11-04-2007, 13:06   #1
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Learning to sail

Any serious feedback (non joking) regarding advice to someone who wants to learn how to sai. What is the best way? Is the Potter 19 a decent boat to learn on? Are formal lessons a 'must'? Has anyone among you ever went out on their own to teach oneself? Does it take very long to develop basic sailing skills on something like a Potter 19? I have a friend who is a skipper and sailing all his life....he's willing to take me out to teach me a few times. How many times with him would it take until I can go out by myself? Thanks for the feedback.

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Old 11-04-2007, 15:16   #2
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Only you can answer that question. Just go out with him and watch and learn. If you can't tell when you're ready to go it alone you've got problems for sure.


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Old 11-04-2007, 18:03   #3
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I've been in love with sailing since I read Robinson Crusoe as a 10 year old. Unfortunately no sailboats anywhere near and no one to teach me how. Solved the problem by buying a sailfish kit boat, building it and went sailing when I was 14. Couldn't find anything to read on sailing in my local library and had no boat building experience. Self-Taught sailing and boat building both turned out well. Sailed the boat daily in the summers on our small Michigan lake. Sold the boat for College money when I went to school. Learned everything about the relation of sail/wind/boat that there is to learn on that little board boat.

The sailing bug hit me again when I was stationed in Hawaii during as a young Navy Lieutenant during Viet Nam. Bought a Columbia 26 as I was just pissing away my money on wine and women in Waikiki. Had few women and a lot of filtered liquor to show for my efforts so thought a boat would be a big improvement to my finances. Had no other experience than my highschool sailing years on the Sailfish. On launch date for my brand new boat, enlisted the help of a totally inexperienced fellow pilot and an employee/sailing expert of the dealer to sail the boat back to La Marianna Sailing club, about 6 miles on the ocean from the Alawai. As things go with boats, the launching got pushed back by from noon till the sun was almost down. I'd brought a couple of bottles of Champagne for the christening and a case of beer just in case we got thirsty. The 'experienced' dealer rep. broached the idea that breaking a full bottle of champagne over the bow of the boat might do damage to the boat and personnel and, least of all, was a waste of good wine. It would better, way safer and prudent to remove the contents of the Champagne Bottles, refill with sea water, and pour that over the boat as a christening. The Dealer rep, being a good guy proceeded to personally undertake the task of removing the original contents of the Champagne bottles over the course of the afternoon. The diuretic action of the wine apparently made him a bit thirsty as he also drank a few beers.

By the time the travel-lift was finally free launch my boat, the 'experienced' crew was passed out in our car. We tried to get him up to help us figure out where all the strings and rags went but had no luck. The sun was getting low in the sky and we needed to move the boat to it's permanent berth so we went to it. After a lot of starts, stops retraces, we got the outboard in the well and started, the sheets in place, the sails hanked on, the beer on board and were ready to depart. the experienced crew was still passed out cold so we shoved off without him. We managed to power out of the AlaWai without much drama. Once we were at the end of the Alawai channel and turned southwest toward Keehi Lagoon, we were in 15 gusting to 20 Trades with a long ocean swell. Hey, it's a salboat, so we did the Chinese about a 100 times better and eventually got the sails up and drawing. They were drawing a little too well so had to change down from the 150 genoa and reef the main. Oh, forgot to mention that the sun was down by this time so I got to do everything in the dark, the first time. My friend was a great pilot but turned out to be a terrible sailor. He was chumming the fish as soon as we hit the ocean swell and I could barely count on him to drive somewhere in the same hemisphere as our destination.

Once the sails were properly balanced I was able to take over the helm and drive the hour sail to Keehi. By the time we were at the Keehi Lagoon entrance my crew recovered enough to steer. That was fortunate as we had to tack up the channel with the wind on the nose. The boat was pitching too much to run the outboard. With my crew driving, we safely tacked up the channel, and sailed to the slip. I was able to get the sails down and the engine running in the calm waters of the lagoon. That made getting into the upwind slip not too dramatic. We put the boat to bed, hd a few congratulatory beers and drove back to the Alawai to pick up the other car. The 'experienced crew' was just waking up when we got there and was ready to continue the party. He didn't understand our lack of enthusiasm for going out drinking with him.

Over the next few months, I went sailing every weekend and any time during the week I could get someone to go with me. Bought Hand, Reef and Steer, devoured it and tried all the tricks that I learned from these studies. Learned to sail the boat quite well including sailing into and out of the slip. Gauging the speed necessary to carry way into the slip was a slow learning process, however. Sometimes I'd lose way too short to grab a mooring line and have to make another pass at it. Came in too hot once and climbed the dock. After four or five attempts got the mooring routine down. The first few times I went out, always drew a crowd from the surrounding slip owners when I came back into the slip. What I took to be 'Aloha Spirit' and camaraderie was actually my neighbors protecting their own boats. Eventually they took no more notice of my comings and goings than any other slip owner.

After a few months, the Whaling Spree came up at Lahaina on Maui. The Whaling Spree was a big to do in Lahaina comparable to today's Halloween night celebration, though a little more laid back. A lot of boats normally sailed over from Honolulu for the festivites. A couple of my buddies volunteered to crew so we decided go. The sail to Maui is an upwind slog across the Molokai Channel and then a close reach down the channel between Molokai and Lanai. The trades almost always blow 15 gusting to 20 in Hawaii, Usually, 15 gusting 20 and the seas in the channel are a bit square, often 10' or more.

I knew crossing the Molokai Channel was a notorious slog so didn't think much of having to shorten down to just the working jib and having blue water over the bow, down the deck, and filling the cockpit with every third wave. The Reach down the channel between the Islands was also a slog. The waves were down compared to the channel so it was a relative sleighride except for the constant soaking spray that came off the bow.
When we finally tied up in Lahaina Harbor, we were a bit surprized that we were the only boat from off Island that made the sail over. We surfed home in less than 12 hours.

The Whaling Spree was a hoot. It was especially nice since there were a number of young ladies at loose ends. They'd flown over to meet friends on boats that were supposed to be sailing over but didn't arrive. About the only time I had the experience of being outnumbered by single ladies. When we got back to Honolulu, asked around why no one else had made it. Turned out they were all fair wx sailors and couldn't handle 25 gusting to 35, very strong trades on the nose and the 15+ foot seas.

When I was transferred to Norfolk after 2+ years in Hawaii and sailing to all he Islands, put the boat up for sale with the local Morgan dealer. Put a Morgan 35 on order pending the sale of the Columbia. Took a while but the 26 finally sold and my Morgan was scheduled for delivery in June and planned the delivery to Norfolk in July. Took a couple weeks leave, installed all the hardware and commissioned the boat. Managed to get everything functioning except the knotmeter/log but had no time to go sailing. Conned one of the girls, now my wife, that I'd met at the Whaling spree, and my totally inexperienced cousin to come along as crew. Sailed out of Tampa Bay to deliver the boat to Norfolk on the first sail. We went through the keys at Marathon, touched shore at Faux Miami, Charleston and then went inside at Beaufort and up the Norfolk Cut.

Made Marathon without much drama except for sailing under a thunder bumper. That was a bit of an eye opener as the winds gusted past 60 and nearly laid the bare stick in the water before passing over in a few minutes. We planned to spend a couple of days at Miami before heading out again for Charleston. Had a little trouble locating the channel at Miami and finally ended up following a ship into the port. My crew took great pleasure in puzzling why the Port Authority building had 'Welcome to Ft. Lauderdale' painted on it. Oops, must have gotten out into the strong current of the Gulf Stream coming around and didn't realize it. I blamed the non functioning log, not my navigation, for the error. Obviously, this was in the days before GPS.

Tied up at what is now the water front park facing the north bay in Charleston. We were getting really salty and sampled the wonderful food in Charleston and then sailed across the bay to a restaurant where all the fishing boats tied up. Had a great meal and began our trek north. We followed a fishing boat out the long channel to deep water but not closely enough. The fishing boat was a good 5 knots faster than us and soon was far ahead when the boat suddenly lurched to a halt. We'd run aground 30' on the wrong side of an unlit channel marker. Figured no sweat, just haul out a kedge anchor and crank ourselves off. By the time we'd inflated the dinghy, loaded up the anchor, the boat was almost high and dry. Ended up walking out anchors on halyards port and starboard to keep the boat upright. By that time, we WERE high and dry. We climbed off the boat, inspected the bottom and generally reveled in the irony of our situation, then sacked out. We woke up the next morning gently rocking, had a leisurely breakfast and continued on out of Charleston Harbor following the now very obvious markers.

Beaufort was a quaint town the sail up Albemarle sound amazing because fo the vast expanse of very thin water. The Norfolk cut allowed us to hone our kedging off talents. Despite only drawing 4', we ran aground several times in the middle of the channel. In an effort to get to Norfolk on our last day we pushed on after the sun went down. We somehow missed the turn-off to the Norfolk river and continued on up the original cut. Needless to say, an abandoned channel eventually silts in. Once again we ran aground. It was really quaint as we were about 15' from a barn yard. We flashed our lights around which didn't seem to bother the cows at all trying to figure out our situation. We were awoken by the Roosters early in the morning and the perfume of manure throughout the night. Their is something surreal about being on a sailboat within spitting distance of such a bucolic setting.

I'd continue on to building our Westsail 32 while living in a VW bus with our dog and 10 puppies, sailing the California Coast, on to the South Pacifc, and to Hawaii but have to get something done today.

To put it succinctly, yes, you can learn to sail on your own. My reccomendation would be to buy a small sail boat. If you get an 8' dinghy, it can serve as your tender for the bigger boat that you buy later. In any case, buy it used. That way you won't take a hit if you sell it to move up. If there is a non hiking class boat that is active in your area, that would be a great way to learn to sail well and get plenty of help. You can also learn to sail by crewing on others boats. That's okay, but I really learn best when I do it myself then go to others to figure out what I'm not doing right.

Have fun, go sailing,

Peter O.
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Old 11-04-2007, 18:46   #4
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How many times with him would it take until I can go out by myself?
Once would be enough to go out alone. Getting back is where it gets more difficult. It's easy when you don't know or care where you are going. It's the getting some place and back again that requires the skill. When you reach the point where you think you understand what you don't know - then you'll know. The difficult part of sailing is getting enough varied experience so you'll know what to do in most situations.

If a Potter 19 is what you have access to then it's the perfect boat. Personally, I favor a bit of formal training. Always best to start out with at least some good habits and a common understanding so you can get alone with other sailors. Doing it wrong until you figure out the right way leaves a lot of room for chance. An injury or property damage avoided quickly recovers the cost.

With a little common sense and a lot of practice it's not exceptionally complicated. The development of safe habits makes it an enjoyable life long pastime.
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Old 14-04-2007, 18:03   #5
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Great story, roverhi. The first time I ran aground while I was self-teaching myself, I was ....... uh, at anchor (something to do with the tide I think). I knew something was wrong when I rolled out of the bunk and hit my head on the dinette table at 3:00AM. Boat had a pronounced list to starboard and the water was about 4" from flooding the cockpit and sinking the boat. The angle was so steep that I don't think there was much I could have done with an anchor unless I had about 200' feet of line - I had 50. Prayer worked, and in a few hours we were afloat again.

To NewSailor - take a course, read a book, and do exactly what you have in mind - practice your skills on a small boat. Yes, it's good to sail the small boat in varrying conditions, but it doesn't take long to develop basic skills. A Potter 19 sounds fine (smaller might be even better) - you don't have to buy one, just have access. Small boats react quickly to natural and human inputs. In a few afternoons you will develop a seat-of-the-pants feel that quickly becomes instinctive. You won't get that seat-of-the-pants feel on a heavy cruising boat, but those instincts will pay big dividends on cruising boats which react slowly to inputs but develop an inertia which can get out of control if you don't react instinctively.
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Old 17-04-2007, 14:19   #6
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Sail UP wind first.


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