Hersch's points about learning as you go are good ones. Initially, try to avoid putting yourself and your boat in conditions that are going to be difficult to handle and work your way up to them, as you get more familiar with the boat, you will begin to understand how she will handle various situations and how you have to treat her to get her to respond.
This isn't to say that you should stick to fair winds and blue skies only, but that you should take the boat out in different conditions to get an idea of how she responds under various weather conditions and with different amounts of sail.
Unfortunately, most boats are different enough that this kind of learning is pretty boat specific. What works on one boat, may or may not work on yours.... so the more familiar and experienced you are with your boat, the better off you will be. Crewing and racing on other boats is good experience, but not everything you learn there will be applicable to your boat specifically. If you can race or crew on the same model boat as your own, that would be more valuable than doing so on a different type of boat, but the more experience you can get—the better.
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You know what the first rule of sailing is? ...Love. You can learn all the math in the 'verse, but you take
a boat to the sea you don't love, she'll shake you off just as sure as the turning of the worlds. Love keeps
her going when she oughta fall down, tells you she's hurting 'fore she keens. Makes her a home.
—Cpt. Mal Reynolds, Serenity (edited)
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Still—DON'T READ THAT POST AGAIN.
Last edited by sailingdog; 05-23-2006 at 03:56 PM.