Join Date: Apr 2010
Location: Vancouver, BC
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Weighing in on dinghy vs keelboat
There are plenty of great comments in this thread already. I was lucky enough to have started young, and small. I currently teach keelboat sailing, so in theory, I shouldn't slit my own throat by boosting for dinghies, but under certain circumstances, I'd say to go that way. Dinghies provide better feedback, and let you know about your mistakes by sending you swimming on a regular basis until you have mastered the craft in that set of conditions. Dinghies can also be more frustrating for beginners. One of my brothers wanted to learn to sail, and due to his size and the fact that he's not exactly nimble, a keelboat made more sense for him as a starting point.
But if you want to be the best sailor you can be, you owe it to yourself to learn to sail dinghies at some point in your sailing career; as another poster pointed out, you'll have a great deal more trust and respect for a keelboat after sailing dinghies.
I have raced or not at various times in my life, but you'll seldom see a keelboat racer winning consistantly, who isn't also a talented dinghy sailor. All things being equal, in my opinion, an accomplished dinghy sailor will outsail someone with no dinghy experience. So to each their own, based on their desires, but it's not necessarily just about racing or not - it's about how sensitive and instinctive you'd like your sailing to become.
Do you want to become a 'reflex sailor?' Join a local sailing club. Sail dinghies. Sail cats. Sail planing skiffs with a harness and trapeze, singlehanded, on a windy day. Go play on the water, and get a little beaten up. Then when you get back on your keelboat, the whole affair will seem as civilized and relaxed as an afternoon on your back patio.
One of the posters here was talking about wanting a bigger boat to be able to be less worried about small craft advisories. I say that size, after a certain point is more of a liability than you might think. Forces multiply - on a 25 footer, you might have 1000 lbs of line force on your genoa sheet in 20 kts of wind, where that might be 4000 lbs on a 36 footer in the same wind, and 10,000 lbs on a 44 footer; the opportunity for serious injury and extraordinarily expensive damage, multiplies on a bigger boat. The price of replacing that headsail moves in a similar progression in terms of dollars.
Hitting your head with the boom during an accidental gybe in high winds in a laser might make you see stars and hear curse words come out of your mouth that you forgot you knew - but on a 36 or 44 footer, it could break your skull and throw you overboard, unconscious, with spinal injuries, while potentially causing thousands of dollars worth of damage to equipment, which would be the least of your worries, although it might hamper your crew's efforts to retrieve you provided you aren't singlehanding.
I've sailed 24 and 26 footers, like a Hinterholler Shark or a Haida, that I would take out in any ocean in the world, and on which I've sailed in 4+ meter swells with up to 50 knots of wind. I'd be just as at home on either of those boats as on my 36 footer in heavy conditions, because they are overbuilt, predictable, and safe.
It's about having the right combination of skills and equipment, all in the same place. Want to get out there with the big dogs in heavy air? Sail small, rock-solid boats in increasingly challenging conditions and work your way up. Sail dinghies if it's within your physical abilities. Invite your friends who are better sailors than you to join you whenever you can...
Have fun and stay safe!!