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ymiri 06-11-2010 09:32 AM

You read a book and now know how to sail?!
Obviously, nothing beats practical experience. Going out with an experienced sailor and learning all the tricks of the trade is the most valuable knowledge you can gain - but what if that's not an option?

Here is the dilemma, I was at the local marina, talking to a sailor (I call her GI Jane) who has crossed the pacific solo on a sailboat. I was telling her I am thinking of signing up for lessons, now the only lessons are on a dinghy that are offered.
She said that sailing on a dinghy and getting on an actual sailboat were two different things and the only way to learn properly is to go with someone experienced. Since then, she has moved to the other side of the country.
I have tried to get someone else to learn from, but it is turning out to be very difficult.
Now if these lessons wont really help, I don't see the point.
I think I know the answer to this, but with a beginner and a 20ft sailboat on a small river can you really learn on your own if you know all the theory?
I am guessing no and it is potential for disaster but I guess I just want to hear it from you guys :)

meteuz 06-11-2010 09:46 AM

There is not a single way to learn anything. I would say get the lesson and spend some time on your own on a 20ft sailboat too.

My first sailboat was a styrofoam disposable paper cup kind of a thing called a Sunflower. After a few days of sailing it, I knew I liked sailing, so the next boat was a Cal 2-27 with hurricane damage that I had to fix and later live aboard. I had some guidance from an old salt for the fixing part, but never took a single class for sailing. One could say that shows, and if I was into racing I would probably crew for an experienced team first, but seamanship is mostly knowledge, experience and intuition, which you can get from reading and messing about on boats.

wwilson 06-11-2010 09:47 AM


Get on the dinghy! The best sailors are almost always people who came up on dinghy - because a dinghy is unforgiving, you learn the sea state, wind and sail trim in a way that would take much, much longer on a keel boat. In fact with respect to sail trim you can look about on any given weekend and see dozens of happy keel boaters, utterly clueless (or careless) about sail trim.

Lots of respect for Jane's accomplishment, but she is wrong on this one.

Once you learn to sail - the difference between a dinghy and keelboat is many things, but mostly learning its inertia and momentum.

Seamanship on the other hand is a rather slowly acquired accomplishment through experience and mentors.

mpickering 06-11-2010 09:54 AM

Sure you can learn on your own. I've basically taught myself and I am no expert sailor. I've certainly made my share of mistakes on the water and mostly damaged my pride (and a little chipped fiberglass at times). I also sailed with other sailors on other people's boats and that help too.

Take any opportunity to sail, dinghy or keelboat. I learned on keelboats but I've sailed dinghies. I read the Annapolis Book of Seamanship cover-to-cover and a few minutes on the water will teach you more than hours on the couch.

A 20 foot boat on a small river is ideal learning experience. Within an hour you should be able to fit all your basic sailing theory together be able to sail the boat, tack and gibe. Everything else is details unrelated to actually sailing such as navigation, docking, undocking, maintenance, etc. Being under sail has always been the easiest part. It's everything else that makes the experience "interesting". For me, docking and undocking is the most stressful aspect of sailing.

Best of luck and have fun!

SV Ruff Heeler
1982 C-27 #5052
Rhode River, MD

WanderingStar 06-11-2010 10:14 AM

Read, study, and practice. I taught myself. Just be sure that your early practice sessions take place close to shore in light breezes and warm uncrowded water.

ymiri 06-11-2010 10:21 AM

I have no problem practicing and learning it on my own - the problem is convincing my girlfriend to get on board.
After a slight incident of sinking a 14ft fishing boat with her on board (my fault, should have looked at the weather conditions and lost the high gear in the motor on the way back) and her floating for 20min, she is very hesitant to get on the water...with me at the helm. :)

SVCarolena 06-11-2010 10:35 AM

Having sailed nothing more than a sunfish a couple times as a child, and a simple Hobie at a resort once, my wife and I bought our 30ft. keel boat without having taken any lessons. I did have a long history of messing about on powerboats, but really not much at all when it came to sailing. I spent a fair amount of time reading and watching some videos, then took the boat out once with an experienced sailor. Since then it has all come through experience. Get out on your boat when the weather is fair and you'll figure it out pretty quickly.

scottyt 06-11-2010 11:50 AM

go learn in decent weather, some of the most fun you will have is in dinghys riding the edge of control. just do this in a boat you can right on your own and warm water. a few weekends of flipping a boat, then getting it back up, seeing how fast you can get across a river, flipping it some more you will get the idea.

or there is the slightly more boring method of going out on a keel boat with someone. just go out and have fun

n0w0rries 06-11-2010 12:15 PM

Yes you can learn yourself. Just start small, and take baby steps.

bradentonbeachboy 06-11-2010 12:44 PM

I have had a 33' Morgan OI, I bought it because I wanted my teens to be occupied on weekends, 2 and a half years ago, no knowledge at all. the first year was all terror.. when it was time to dock. In my marina I have to dock backwards. But, I go out every weekend and I have learned as I go, my crew loves it and now we are Scuba divers too! (gotta make em clean the bottom)
Two weeks ago, I was in the Bahamas and rented a catamaran, awesome, and went diving (not from the cat). Just baby step your way, have a life jacket and make sure you dont get a boat you can not afford to watch it sink to the bottom. I am not one of those sailors who constantly trims sails, I get my boat set in the wind and just go that direction until it is time to go in the opposite direction and I have a blast. And still evry time I dock, I consider it a monumental achievement.

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