sailing schools-vs-seat of your pants learning to sail
Well, I would have to say that the best way to start to learn the sport of sailing is in a smaller centerboard craft, in the 14 - 16 ft range. Main, jib, spinn.
The S&S designed tandem of the Lightning and the Blue Jay was a very well thought out concept to take a beginner through the basics and then graduate to a more sophisticated craft.
I liked the Blue Jay because it would teach you the basics of sail control and trim angles. The basics of balance in the boat, how the trim of centerboard affected your speed. Your weight was used to balance and your felt its affect on boat dynamics. The Spinn was easily handled and taught you all the basics, pole height and angle to the wind, spinn sheet trimming, the occasional planing situation.
The Lightning introduced the concept of seperate controls for the wire and the cloth along the luff of the jib, and the management of draft on a sail. The main shape was dictated by the adjustable backstay, luff tension and mainsheet. Along with barberhaulers for the jib leads you could also manage your slot. The Spinn was substantially larger and had to be treated with respect by a three man crew in anything over, say, 12 kts of wind. The centerboard, now a 300lb piece of steel, needed to be minded. Its'' fractional rig coupled with its'' sophisticated tuning cababilities, you could easily manage the sailplan to winds in excess of 20tks.
Mastry of the Blue Jay would probably only take about 5 to 10 days stick time with a competent tutor.
The Lightning would take another 10 days to learn to sail well, but maybe years to master. It is a truly great design.
Once you became comfortable handling the Lightning, everything else is just a bigger or smaller example of the basic techniques.
The most startling thing going up in size is the amazing increase in loads on critical systems. You learn to respect and manipulate the loads safely, how to manage your sailplan for the conditions. How to change gears and why.
The more time you spend out on the water in different craft and conditions, the greater your knowledge will be.
It is always important to test out and become familiar with all the possible rig combinations you may encounter on a boat. That includes setting the storm sails, or practicing how to quickly shorten sail in a blow.
Dry walkthoughs are helpful. On calm day, its easier to become familiar with a setup than it is on a pitching deck with spray blowing in your face.