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Go Back   SailNet Community > Skills and Seamanship > Learning to Sail
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  #1  
Old 04-20-2010
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Start on a dinghy or a keelboat?

We were talking about this issue in FightClub - so I thought I'd bring it up here in the public square...because I think it's an interesting issue:

I always see people telling newbs to start out sailing dinghies. And I don't buy this - for the most part.

Granted, if you're going to race that makes a lot of sense. It's a great way to learn the dynamics involved.

But if you're just going to cruise, why bother? Why not just go grab a 22-27 footer and start tossing back Dark and Stormies under the watchful eye an experienced sailor until you figure the boat out? Much more enjoyable way to learn to sail. And you're learning on the boat type that you'll be on in the end anyway.

So if you're goal is to race...dinghy. If your goal is to cruise....keelboat.

What say ye?
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Old 04-20-2010
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I generally agree with that. I don’t much get into racing and so I learned on a 24’ keelboat. Although if you think you might like racing, you can learn a lot by crewing for people.
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Old 04-20-2010
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I'll generally disagree with that one.
Sailing in the 'little guys' gives you an appreciation of how forgiving and staid a larger boat can be. Also, some of the 'bigger guys' are kind of just larger sized Lasers and handle similarly. It does not hurt one bit to know how other boats handle.
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Old 04-20-2010
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Same answer as I give to those wondering how to get into motorcycling.

If you want to be good, really really good, maybe expert, then start early, before you are 10yrs old and start small.

If you are already to old to be really really good and just want to be as good as you can then just start small. It is never too late to be the best you can be.

If you are too old and do not have the time to spend working your way up to your dream boat or bike and just want to have fun then just go for it.

Sure you will never be able to tack or tuck like some, then again some folks who have gone through the ranks can't or do not care to either.

You can still be safe and have a lot of fun by starting big.

But if you do have the choice start young, 5 years old is not too young, and start small. That results in an advantage that very few old farts, no matter how hard they try, will overcome.
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Old 04-20-2010
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dinghies give instant response to the helm. It is a faster learning curve than on a big boat (also you get dumped in the drink if you get it wrong). They are also more obviously sensitive to weight distribution. It might take you a much longer time to figure out how these factors affect you if you are on a boat where it is harder to tell the difference.

I am glad I sailed dinghies first. But sailing anything is better than not sailing - if the small boat keeps you off the water then by all means get a bigger one.
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Old 04-20-2010
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You will learn more about boat balance, ballast trim, sail trim, etc on a sailing dinghy in a shorter period of time than you will on a keelboat. The larger the boat, the harder it is to learn these things because the boat generally reacts a bit slower to changes and you need to do more to effect some of the changes.

Moving a 200 lb. sailor from one side of a 19' Cape Cod Mercury to the other is going to make a pretty big difference. Moving the same guy from the stern to the forward end of the cockpit is also going to affect the boat significantly. Doing these same things on a 27' keelboat, like a P27, is going to have significantly less effect.
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Old 04-20-2010
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I'm on the dinghy side (so I'm told). Trim and balance really matter there. And sailing is all about balance. Sailing my ketch is like driving a train. Which is great when I want to make dinner, or change the gear on deck, because she'll just keep going. But I'm glad I learned in dinghies. That said, if I were starting at 65, I'd want a keelboat.
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Old 04-20-2010
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Quote:
Originally Posted by smackdaddy View Post
We were talking about this issue in FightClub - so I thought I'd bring it up here in the public square...because I think it's an interesting issue:

I always see people telling newbs to start out sailing dinghies. And I don't buy this - for the most part.

Granted, if you're going to race that makes a lot of sense. It's a great way to learn the dynamics involved.

But if you're just going to cruise, why bother? Why not just go grab a 22-27 footer and start tossing back Dark and Stormies under the watchful eye an experienced sailor until you figure the boat out? Much more enjoyable way to learn to sail. And you're learning on the boat type that you'll be on in the end anyway.

So if you're goal is to race...dinghy. If your goal is to cruise....keelboat.

What say ye?
While starting, I was undecided about which boat to choose. I heard (and read in some books) both things, some said dinghy others said keel boat. I went the keel boat route since I was not interested in racing but only cruising and very glad I did so far. Starting with an old 25 that needed a lot of work to a super nice 22 which I absolutely love that needs no work. This said, I think that 25 was safer and much easier to handle because it was a lot heavier, more stable in the water, easier to walk and stand on. Am I correct to say that most would agree a 25 could be the best size keelboat to learn on? It seems that it has solid weight but still easy to handle. Problem I now have is, I already want a bigger boat and I want something in the 34ft range to keep small craft advisories away. The reality is, I still have a lot to learn and I can't see getting something that much bigger until at least 2 years. So for now, I will keep my beautiful 22.
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Old 04-24-2010
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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!!
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Old 04-25-2010
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Smackdaddy,
you know the answer. Are you paid to get these things goin? If so, can I get in? You mentioned dinghies are the way to learn the dynamics. Yep, it's true. For anyone wanting to actually really understand sailing, a dinghy is the only way to go. Of course, you won't learn big boat ocean sailing in a dinghy. You will learn the basic concepts and forces that are "sailing."
Cruising a sailboat safely with good food, friends, "dark and stormies", and a safe/cozy harbor..... Well, that's a different thing.
Learning to run a comfortable sailboat is available to anyone that can walk (also, there are programs for those that can't walk - or other disabilities).
All that is required is a desire to learn it.
Still, dinghy sailing (alone) is the best way for anyone to really learn sailing, or the "dynamics."
Max
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