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Old 12-05-2019, 16:32   #1
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Learning to sail in a small lake to transition to Great Lakes

Hello everybody,
I've been a lurker on here for years on and off. I live in SW Virginia (close to Claytor lake and about 1:30 from Smith Mountain lake). Long-term I'm considering doing Great lakes and coastal live aboard sailing. I've only currently done some dinghy sailing to learn very basics.

I'd like to see how I enjoy sailing and spending time aboard a sailboat. I'm not sure how best to do this beyond buying one locally and giving it a go on a lake. I've looked at some 29'-30' boats at Smith Mountain lake (a small-medium sized lake). I feel like if I want to know what staying on a boat is like a boat about this size to "camp" on would be most worthwhile.

I'm hoping to keep in the $5-$15k range pricewise. I'd probably plan to just sell when I plan to leave the area for GL or coastal sailing. I'd expect this would be 1 or 2 years in the future. It is currently hard for me to get away from work for more than a couple of weekdays.

So far I've looked at a Cat 30, Ericson 29, Columbia 9.6 and Tanzer 29. Any thoughts on best plan to gain sailing/cruising experience with my current situation? Thanks, Ross
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Old 12-05-2019, 16:56   #2
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Re: Learning to sail in a small lake to transition to Great Lakes

I learned sailing on a Hobie 16 on Arkabutla Lake in Mississippi. It's one of the TVA lakes.

As soon as I could operate the thing, I started racing it against other H16 sailors with much more experience

When I was transferred to the Gulf Coast in the mid 90's, I continued with the beach cats buying more high tech as I went along

The good thing about them is you can cover a lot of ground/water fast.

I've completed 100 mile races with a sloop rigged beach cat (Nacra 6.0) with my 15 year old son as crew in 12 hours. This in 1997.

Another idea would be a Lightning. They are 19' and sailed at many inland lakes. They have a sloop rig and spinnaker and are trailerable as are the beach cats
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Old 12-05-2019, 17:11   #3
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Re: Learning to sail in a small lake to transition to Great Lakes

I appreciate the advice. One of my friends actually has a Hobie cat, I think a 16' maybe. I've been on it once and it was alot of fun, I plan to try to some more this summer.

But one of the reasons I've looked for a bit bigger is to also gain experience on the cruising "lifestyle" of living off of the boat as well as the sailing, anchoring and other cruising experiences. I'm mostly curious to see if I will be able to get much of that.

Thanks, Ross
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Old 12-05-2019, 18:00   #4
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Re: Learning to sail in a small lake to transition to Great Lakes

Learned to sail on a sailfish on a small inland lake. Learned most things I needed to know about the mechanics of sail in that boat. Went from that to sailing between the islands in Hawai’i on a 26 footer. Might think about scaling your boat size down a notch as living aboard a 30 footer is hardly camping.
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Old 12-05-2019, 18:07   #5
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Re: Learning to sail in a small lake to transition to Great Lakes

Have you considered trying a one week live aboard course somewhere on the Great Lakes? That would likely give you a better idea of how it feels.
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Old 13-05-2019, 04:42   #6
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Re: Learning to sail in a small lake to transition to Great Lakes

I like the idea of trying out living aboard in the Great Lakes. If you have not taken classes, I would suggest looking into just that. I would suggest the Great Lakes Sailing Co., you will live aboard while taking classes, they offer ASA 101/103 four day combo classes where you can live aboard while taking the classes, you can then charter the boat for a reduced fee for the rest of the week if you so desire. This will also possibly help with any insurance that you might get as well.

https://www.greatlakessailingco.com/...ailing-school/
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Old 13-05-2019, 08:53   #7
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Re: Learning to sail in a small lake to transition to Great Lakes

After teaching sailing in a couple of California colleges; start in a dinghy. Basic boat handling skills are made easier by transitioning from small dinghies to larger boats. Most yacht clubs and universities follow this program. Learning to dock under sail in windy or variable conditions is much less harrowing when the cost of failure is minimal. A knock down on a dinghy gives you a good idea of what to expect in a knock down of a larger boat. Go out in a wide variety of wind, wave and current conditions. I have noticed that sailors who start in small dinghies are much more sensitive to sail trim and fore-and-aft weight distribution.
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Old 13-05-2019, 09:44   #8
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Re: Learning to sail in a small lake to transition to Great Lakes

Regardless of what boat you learn to sail on, when you go from a small one to a big one, you will experience big differences.
1. Small boats react instantly. The bigger you get the slower the response.
2. Small boats have very little inertia. The bigger you get, the more inertia.
3. Winds on most small lakes whip around a lot. On the Great Lakes, they also do, but in a much different way... and it's not predictable. You must pay attention at all times.
4. Storms on the Great Lakes are a sight to behold... and you don't want to get caught in one that whips up 10 ft high waves. These can come up and on you really fast. Oh, and did I mention lightning?

All that said, the Great Lakes are really neat, wonderful places to sail. Oh, bring along your fly swatter... in some sections the biting flies keep you pretty occupied swatting.
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Old 13-05-2019, 09:50   #9
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Re: Learning to sail in a small lake to transition to Great Lakes

Given the size of VA lakes, I'd go a lot smaller and day sail. It will be more fun, IMO.


Dinghy sailing is not about learning basics; that's what Olympic sail is about.
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Old 13-05-2019, 09:56   #10
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Re: Learning to sail in a small lake to transition to Great Lakes

Quote:
Originally Posted by AnglaisInHull View Post
Have you considered trying a one week live aboard course somewhere on the Great Lakes? That would likely give you a better idea of how it feels.

That's a good idea. You don't need a big boat on the Great Lakes, but you do need the skill to think about your response to occasionally severe weather. Until I was actually in a hurricane (on shore near boats), the worst weather I ever sailed in was on Lake Ontario and that includes some time in the Atlantic in November.
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Old 13-05-2019, 10:34   #11
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Re: Learning to sail in a small lake to transition to Great Lakes

Fizban, it has been said many times before that learning to control a boat under sail is the easy part of live aboard cruising. Yes you can learn to sail on a lake in VA. Sure you should take some ASA courses. If you can arrange it crewing on someone else’s boat is a good way to gain experience. As others have said starting small will give you more immediate feedback in your learning and if you can only find a few days at a time a smaller boat will give you as much experience with much less expense. The challenges of living aboard a cruising boat are much more about systems than about sailing. Navigation, anchoring, plumblng, electricity, refrigeration, dinghies and outboard motors, waste management and water conservation will all quickly become more of what you need to learn along with sail shape. These things you will only learn when you can spend extended time on a boat large enough and complex enough to have them.

I know you stated you are thinking of live aboard cruising in the Great Lakes and that is a beautiful place to sail but a difficult place to live aboard year round. Since you are in Virginia have you considered sailing in the Chesapeake Bay? It too is a beautiful place to sail and has a much longer sailing season. There are many destinations fairly close to each other and ample support services. Living aboard is much less challenging there too.
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Old 13-05-2019, 12:21   #12
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Re: Learning to sail in a small lake to transition to Great Lakes

The bay or other areas are probably a good middle ground. I guess I like the idea of the wilderness of the lakes, particularly superior.

While I need to learn sailing, I've done some dinghy sailing. I'm more interested in learning the "lifestyle" and if it is for me. That is why I was considering a 25-30', as I could at least spend weekends on it and maybe get a little idea of what it is like.

I did look up the great lakes sailing school and it looks like a great option. I may also plan for an Annapolis one, as my brother lives in DC. Thanks, Ross
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Old 14-05-2019, 05:35   #13
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Re: Learning to sail in a small lake to transition to Great Lakes

There are really 2 distinct yet related aspects to "trying it out". The first is sailing. You can learn to sail a small boat or big boat...they are all fun. The second is the "camping out" aspect. A small cruiser is like a tiny cottage or water based RV. You spend the day sailing, then enjoy your tiny house in the most beautiful venues you could imagine.

I'd like to recommend the C&C25mk1 as a good boat for both aspects. They are fun, easy, and fast to sail, and offer a cozy cabin for staying aboard. I often spent 4 or 5 nights with a family of 4 aboard (2 small kids in the vee). For a couple or just one person it would be tons of room. The C&C25 is a huge boat for a 25, and has a big boat, solid feel to it. They are also common on the Great Lakes at very low prices in good condition ($2000-$5000 cdn).

IMHO, all boats are fun to sail. There is no wrong answer...just get out there and sail. You will have fun and make memories. Get the best boat you can...not the biggest boat you can. Good luck!!!!
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