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akallabeth 03-01-2008 09:58 PM

what is a realistic learning curve?
First post - please excuse the newbieness

My wife and I have always wanted to learn to sail, and have planned a busy summer of courses, starting with an intro to sailing, followed by a basic keelboat, cruising, bareboat, and finally catamaran courses (ASA certifications in 101,103, 104, and 114).

Frankly, I don't know realistically what this means our skill level would be afterward, and I don't necessarily trust the course descriptions to be completely up front.

We always vacation in Greece for 2-3 weeks each summer (she's Greek). A dream would be to charter a small catamaran and try some short island hopping (say the Northern Sporades). However, after the outline above, I have no idea if we would be ready for that, or whether we need x-number of years of regular sailing under our belts first, etc.

I can see how it could be the latter, so I don't mean any offense to experienced sailors. I'm just fairly ignorant here.

For us the prices for sailing are a bit of a shocker, and we are still trying to figure out how to find a way to sail regularly and afford it. So bareboat prices are much more attractive. We also thought to try and convince an acquaintance who has a good bit a sailing experience to accompany us (that also helps with the horrific prices in charting w.r.t. our budget - we were thinking catamarans). But this is likely somewhat of a long shot.

Thanks for any advice.

nolatom 03-01-2008 10:18 PM

Take the 101 course, a good introduction. Then you might consider chartering with a skipper, worth the extra expense because he/she will inevitably teach you and you get to do as much of the sailing yourself as you want, with no other students, and you still get a vacation out of it. I suppose a good Basic Coastal Cruising course would do the same thing. Then find a friend with a boat and crew a lot.

I teach some, but I personally think that sailing is best learned over time, with different instructors (including the "school of hard knocks" on your own) and varying weather conditions, boat types, water temperatures, climates, and geography. Just getting the certificates may not be enough depth of experience.

Want a wild estimate, since you asked? Do the above, sail as much as you can, do some short-hop cruising, give yourself about two years (?), then try that cruise in Greece.

Caveat here: I'm a monohull guy, and don't think I can give advice about catamarans. I'm sure they're great, but I like upwind sailing and tacking quickly whenever I want, and I don't see most cats do this well, though they're fast on a reach or a run (cat fans, flame away).

Anyway that's my curbstone advice. It's free, and therefore worth every penny. Of course, your mileage may vary, but you did ask..

sailingdog 03-01-2008 10:30 PM

Welcome to sailnet... :D

A lot of it depends on where you take the courses... since some schools aren't as good as others.

One problem with not having a boat and not sailing on a fairly regular basis is the skills and knowledge tend to fade a bit. I wouldn't recommend bareboat chartering a catamaran until you've gotten a bit more experience sailing than a summer's worth of courses will give you. Spreading the courses out, as suggested by NOLATOM, would probably be a good idea. Another suggestion would be to take the courses in different sailing locations... since the conditions will be fairly varied by doing that.

It would help if you said where you are located, since if you live in a coastal area or with large lakes, you might want to buy a small cruising sailboat, which would allow you to sail regularly. Chartering is generally an expensive way to sail regularly. Joining a sailing club would be a good possibility too.

Unfortunately, larger catamarans are fairly expensive. Smaller cruising catamarans like the Gemini 105, Iroquois, or Catalac 8M are fairly affordable, but finding a slip for it may be a problem. Also, from what I've been told and read, the Med can be fairly challenging compared to some other places, like the BVIs.

I'd also recommend you read this POST to help you get the most out of Sailnet.

Catamarans have some issues with handling compared to monohulls, often due to excessive windage, and the fact that they don't have a central hull to pivot around. Also, the technicques for sailing a multihull are slightly different from those used for a monohull.

tjaldur 03-02-2008 04:25 AM

I believe you need to distinguish between skills in navigation, skills in using sails for catching the wind as power for moving the ship from A to B and skills in keeping the ship afloat and and the maintainance of the different parts of the ship.

Considering using sails as means for moving, it is fairly easy to learn how to sail and quite difficult to learn how to sail well.

If you plan to sail in coastal waters you need skills in reading charts and tidal water tables.

If you plan to sail the ocean you will also need to know quite a lot about how things work in your ship, because something is bound to happen sooner or later and you will have to repair it yourself (electricity, motor maintenance, the plumbing system of the toilet (particularly if you appreciate the companionship of ladies) etc.

TejasSailer 03-02-2008 05:44 AM

Akallabeth, we followed a similar plan to what you propose, except we really didn't have a plan. After a hiatus of over 20 years when we had sailed an 18' catamaran on weekends for a few years, we decided to come back to sailing and took monohull courses including coastal navigation. We then rented boats for half-day sailing for a while and later joined a flotilla in Greece with a UK company. We tend to be a bit reclusive but discovered we really liked flotillas, and along with renting we "successfully" avoided buying a boat for about three years.

Although still being convinced that it did not make sense economically, we bought a boat about three years ago and have not had even one second of buyers remorse. Beware. Part of our justification was no more European vacations, but we haven't stopped those either and have already signed up to return to Greece in May.

sailingdog 03-02-2008 08:36 AM

Tjaldur's points about there being some significant differences in the skill sets required for different types of sailing is also a good one.

Most people can learn the basics of sailing in a day... however, to go cruising, you need far more skills that those of just sailing.

You will need to know how to:
  • rig the boat for heavy weather;
  • how to sail and handle heavy weather;
  • how to anchor;
  • how to use an autopilot;
  • how to use a VHF;
  • how to do coastal pilotage and navigation;
  • how to read a GPS
  • how to read a chart;
  • how to handle a dinghy*;
  • how to provision a boat;
  • how to use a marine galley and marine head*;
  • how to pick up a mooring;
  • how to read a coastal pilot;
  • how to interpret tidal changes and currents;
  • how to plan a passage;
  • how to enter a strange harbor;
  • how to manage freshwater usage;*
  • how to clear in and out of customs.

Some of these may sound very basic or a bit funny, especially the ones I marked with the *, but you'd be surprised at how much trouble they can cause. :)

The repair and maintenance skills, while they would be very useful and probably wise to have, aren't really completely necessary if you're only chartering boats. Most charter companies will take fairly good care of the boats, and try to keep the mechanical problems their clients see to a minimum. Even if you're chartering boats, and not owning one, you'll probably want to learn the following skils at a minimum:
  • how to bleed the diesel system;
  • how to clear the raw water filter;
  • how to change a fuel filter;
  • how to change an impeller;
  • how to check the basics of a boat's electrical system.

PS--Akallabeth, just one OT question... wasn't Akallabeth the name of an old Apple II game from about 1980 or so?? and is your handle based on that game??

AjariBonten 03-02-2008 11:11 AM

I'm not sure if Akallabeth is an auspicious name for a sailor or a sailboat.

Akallabeth (The Downfall of Numenor, from the Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkein) is a major tragedy involving a mighty sailing people!!!!!


EDIT: Welcome aboard! Sounds like you have a very familiar dream.....

akallabeth 03-02-2008 01:14 PM

Thanks for the replies to date - especially the rough estimate for time, which I understand is rough based on so many things.

My handle - yes, I thought that it might seem odd to those that know the tale! But its frequently been mine on message boards - it was my favorite story in the Silmarilion. I guess even if it ended badly, there was a long age of glory, and well, I wouldn't mind having that before the end! But I'd kind of like to avoid entanglements with Sauron....

I live in New York City, so there are a lot of possibilities in the tri-state area for sailing. To meet our schedule, in fact, our courses are planned over three schools, one in CT, one in NY, and one in NJ.

I had done a lot of reading and based on theory, thought for what we'd like (long term), a multihull like a cat seemed right. Proponents argue that well designed and not-overloaded cats can perform very well as cruising vessels. But there is not a single cat in the area that is available for chartering or part of a club (there is one for crewed chartering and the ASA-114 course, but not for anything else). So most of our practice would be on monohulls. At least I'll get to know both types of boat this way.

Thanks also for the list of topics we would have to know AND be comfortable with. And the idea of having personal experience over classroom is appreciated. I had hoped to do any initial bareboat chartering is a limited sailing region - the Northern Sporades islands are close to my wife's home in Greece and are all within site of each other for the most part. We've also considered BVI etc., but that would be for another season, but may indeed be where we decide to do this. Chartering a skipper may also be in the plan.

I'll try to read up more on the forum as suggested. I'm sure more questions would be answered there. Again thanks for your responses and any more that come!

ps So any thoughts on why sailing is so expensive? Is it that its just not practiced in large numbers (so no economy of scale benefits)? The technology is expensive? It's a "luxury" pursuit? I was prepared for courses to cost a bit, but not so much for everything else to cost so much as well!

But it is a dream. My wife definitely has the Greek blood for the sea. I honestly think she gains in health and happiness just being near it for a while!

nolatom 03-02-2008 10:14 PM

I thought about your "why so expensive" question. There are lots of ways to sail on the cheap, most involve being a member of the "OPBC" (the "Other Peoples' Boat Club"), wherein you make friends with sailboat owners, who usually are looking for crew (betcha a whole lot of them around western Long I. Sound once you get a little experience and start asking around).

Look at the average harbor or marina. Those nice boats sit idle about 95% of the time (and 100% of the time in winter up north). Would you buy a house or car that you used so infrequently? Me, I'd rent or borrow, or go to the gatherings where they need guests (read: crew). There are sailing clubs you can join, or buy a boat with one or two others and share it (takes some cooperation for sure) or join a boat club that has boats you can take out as much or little as you want.

Actually, some well-used but decent coastal cruisers for two can be had for under ten grand. Much of the expense though, is where to keep it, because waterfront property (for docks, marinas, boatyards, yacht clubs) has become so precious that it's more expensive than the boat.

So maybe this doesn't help, but down here (Gulf south) lessons aren't that expensive, the ones I have taught on, whether yacht club adult ed., or private, are (for a group of four per boat/instructor), less than $20 per hour per person. So look around. And don't pass up racing just because you want to learn to cruise. Those owners are *always* looking for reliable crews, and racing is a concentrated course in how to sail in general (though not how to do lots of the cruising/logistics stuff Sailingdog rightly mentioned above). Plus they may even feed you and give you beer ;-)

sailingdog 03-03-2008 09:11 AM

One other point about racing... the fine sail trim techniques you can learn while racing will prove to be invaluable when you're out cruising, especially if you've learned how to maximize boat speed in light winds. :)

About the OPYC, it helps if you're handy and willing to learn about doing stuff on the boat. People who help out are generally asked to crew more often than people who just show up for the ride. You can also learn quite a bit about those maintenance and repair tasks and generally pick up a few pointers on them in the process, which is always a good thing to do before actually having to use said knowledge on your own boat.

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