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Old 02-04-2011, 03:50   #1
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Learn on a Dinghy or Keelboat?

Another tread got me thinking. If someone who has zero sailing experience and knowledge and wants to learn to sail so they can soon live there dream. would you suggest to them to:

a) do a course like the RYA competent crew or sailing on their dream boat with a skipper and crew to teach them?

or

b) do a course on small dinghy's or beach cats getting to understand the basics and then do point (a)?


It seems to me is the best option, even if it is just a few days. Being smaller, lighter and that your weight acts as a ballast, you really get to understand very quickly how changes in the wind affect the boats balance, you more readily get to see what is and isn't possible and you get to be punished with a dunking when you totally screw up.

It feels to me crewing on a large boat means that your uptake of sailing basics will be slower.
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Old 02-04-2011, 04:04   #2
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Re: Learn on a Dinghy or Keelboat?

I wouls suggest whichever opportunities arise first - although it has to be said that dinghy sailors make far better yacht racers than those without dinghy experience!
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Old 02-04-2011, 04:37   #3
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Re: Learn on a Dinghy or Keelboat?

For starting from absolute Zero I would suggest a day sail on a full size yacht (no course or teaching) - either with a mate, or even with a proffesional organisation. Capzising and balance just too much to think about from day 1......really just want to get a basic understanding of how the sails go up - and how the wind moves the boat.....no need to even learn how to do that on day 1 / week 1.

After that I would stick with the bigger sized boats, and I dunno what a RYA competent crew course means - but a week of lessons (in one go or over a month or so) should teach those who are interested more than enough to know what route would be best for them to learn further (personal and financial circumstances always play a big part in any decisions as well as simply the boat / sailing side).

Having said all that, for a first boat - can do a lot worse than a dinghy or a smallish day sailor. and even without, some dinghy sailing lessons no bad thing either. A dinghy as first boat will teach you loads, not just about sailing but about being a skipper.
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Old 02-04-2011, 05:05   #4
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Re: Learn on a Dinghy or Keelboat?

I guess it's possible to be a good sailor from big boat experience only but, provided you're still young enough - say, under 40 - then absolutely nothing can teach the skills better than some seasons in racing dinghies.

Boat handling on all points of sail, sail trimming, understanding and picking wind shifts and velocity changes, working through the sea to windward and planing off the wind, locating the marks and so on, all the while under the pressure of a competitive environment requiring constant strategic assessments serve to make dinghy sailors excellent in pressure cooker situations at sea.

Nothing big boats can offer matches the sheer exhilaration of planing on a knife edge in 25 knots in constant spray. IMHO, it's still the best sailing has to offer so, if for no other reason, do it for pleasure (and pain) and the skills will stay with you forever.
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Old 02-04-2011, 06:30   #5
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Re: Learn on a Dinghy or Keelboat?

Small one-design boats are fun. They do all the essential things a big boat does. They are very sensitive to trim and errors. Learning to avoid unplanned jibes, broaching, being swatted by the boom, capsizing, and other disasters can be learned without the major consequences possible on a full sized cruiser. If you can find a boat like a Lightning, or another design with a full Marconi rig, it will teach you most of what you need to know. Back 40 years ago, after sailing on a friend's Blue Jay, I bought an old wood Lightning, fixed her up and was hooked forever on sailing. That poor boat suffered much before I learned what NOT to do. Even if you take courses which explain in detail the mistakes to avoid, most people don't really internalize these lessons until actually screwing up.
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Old 02-04-2011, 06:35   #6
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Re: Learn on a Dinghy or Keelboat?

I know many suggest starting on a dingy, but if your only goal is to sail a large keelboat, I disagree. I think you will get plenty feedback from a smaller keelboat, and it will be more representative of what you will be doing later. Tipping over, and righting a small dinghy has little to do with cruising.

Obviously, if a keelboat isn't available or is cost prohibitive, there are things you can learn on a small dinghy which can benefit you later.
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Old 02-04-2011, 12:22   #7
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Re: Learn on a Dinghy or Keelboat?

Hej,

I will always recommend mastering a dinghy first before going for the big boat. However, as you will be learning the basics in a dinghy, there is no harm in sailing keel boats at the same time! Synergy.

Just try not to skip the dinghy part - it will pay back down the road!

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Old 02-04-2011, 12:52   #8
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Re: Learn on a Dinghy or Keelboat?

I would say it all depends upon how much time and money you have available. Primarily, the time - months or years?
- - Learning anything from the "ground up . . " always usually makes a better and more skilled craftsman. Dinghy sailing will primarily teach you how the sails work and how movement of the boat can assist or hinder movement under sail. There is no need to get involved in frequent capsizes - they are fun but don't really teach you much.
- - Then move up to a small day-sailor type boat where there are more sails and lines and control lines along with the reduced maneuvering ability compared to a sailing dinghy. Learn how to get the maximum efficiently out of the sails and boat configurations. Learn how to dock/moor under sail alone.
- - Then move up to small yachts in the 30ft range and learn to navigate, plan, and operate more a complex vessel and its more complex systems. Here is where taking sailing lessons from outfits like ASA pay off. You will have already learned "how to sail" now you want to learn how to cruise and operate/charter a cruising boat.
- - Finally you start bareboat chartering larger boats of different makes and models in different locations around the world (as money allows) so that you can make an informed decision about what boat/model fits your future plans best.
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Old 02-04-2011, 12:55   #9
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Re: Learn on a Dinghy or Keelboat?

I started on a Dinghy and learned many things when I was a teenager. Up until the last few years I have been on powerboats. 20 years later I started hanging out on a buddy's sail boat he was very impressed with my sailing skills never knowing I started sailing in the Sea Scouts on dinghy's. It was like riding a bike. Now I am the proud owner of a 43' Beneteau for my first sailboat. Many of the lessons I learned on the dinghy I still use today.
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Old 02-04-2011, 13:03   #10
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Re: Learn on a Dinghy or Keelboat?

There is a big difference between sailing a dingy on a regular basis, and just taking lessons on one. You will not master anything during a few lessons.
The basics can be learned on any type of boat. But if you ever decide to further your RYA training beyond the basics, you will have to start with the basic class anyway. So start there... If you want to "master" the basics after you have learned them, spend a few bucks on a cheap dingy and go sailing.

Sailing skills translate just fine between the different types of sailboats.

I got my start by taking a one day class, with no certification, on 25' keelboat in a local lake... I then bought a dingy and sailed all summer. After that, I took the ASA (similar to RYA) lessons on a big cruising boat.

I don't know if that's the best approach or not, but it really worked out well for me. I was far more advanced in the sailing department than the other students in the ASA lessons. However, I had still never anchored, or docked, or reefed, or Hove-to...or anything like that.
But I sure had a lot of fun all summer sailing the little dingy around. I was even able to sell it at the end of the year for a few dollars profit.

I don't believe there are any mystical skills that can only be acquired in a dingy. But, there is a real sense of pleasure and satisfaction in handling a small boat that you don't get in a big boat. Handling a big boat is more like work.
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Old 02-04-2011, 13:41   #11
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start small...

I think there is an intuitive grasp of the relationship between the wind, water, hul, saill and rudder and how they act together to move the boat that develops best and most easily in a small boat.

I learned simultaneously on a cat 22 and sunfish and lazers... I remember very little of what I was formally taught on the Catalina, but I have never lost the rock solid internal sense of how it all works that I developed dinkin around on the little fleets.

besides it was fun.

And having a sense of what over sailing feels like in a small boat can inform your decision in a larger keel boat...
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Old 02-04-2011, 15:17   #12
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Re: Learn on a Dinghy or Keelboat?

It's interesting to see the different opinions.

I wonder if how many people opinion on this topic is based on their own introduction to sailing?

I started sailing in a mirror dinghy and this has certainly swayed my opinion towards thinking that others should start that way.
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Old 02-04-2011, 15:31   #13
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Re: Learn on a Dinghy or Keelboat?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Saucy Sailoress View Post
I wouls suggest whichever opportunities arise first - although it has to be said that dinghy sailors make far better yacht racers than those without dinghy experience!
I'd agree with that. Rare to find a small boat sailor who isn't a great big boat sailor but plenty of folks on cruising boats wouldn't be able to sail a dinghy properly.
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Old 02-04-2011, 15:45   #14
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Re: Learn on a Dinghy or Keelboat?

Quote:
Originally Posted by hoppy View Post

(...)

I wonder if how many people opinion on this topic is based on their own introduction to sailing?

(...)
Mine is. And to make the offense worse, I actually think a windsurfer is better yet. Look - no rudder, and yet!

But I know the windsurfer is not practical for many starters ;-)

Now more seriously, my advice for any 'sailor to be' does not really come from the fact that I started in a dinghy. In fact, it comes much more from the fact that I am now at times asked to teach boat handling / sailing and other related skills to local and passing sailors. While doing so, I found that many cruisers lack the basic competences that make sailing a boat so much easier. They will force the boat into things she is not willing to do, use too much sail when it is windy, too little when it is light, then get annoyed and invariably - start the engine... I always ask my students how they started and I found it universal that keen dinghy sailors make better sailors overall.

Not to say that one cannot start at the other end. Off course, this is the other option.

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Old 02-04-2011, 16:20   #15
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Re: Learn on a Dinghy or Keelboat?

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I actually think a windsurfer is better yet. Look - no rudder, and yet!
As Barnakiel would know, dinghy sailors who like to go fast (and ain't that all of them ) use their body weight and sheet tensions to control direction - the rudder is a brake, should be kept neutral, and should be used only as a last resort. Even tacking and gybing by rolling and without touching the rudder - now that's fast. Those who've only ever learned on big boats miss out on all the fun...
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