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tybeefolk 01-31-2004 09:13 AM

sailing schools-vs-seat of your pants learning to sail
we have posted a similar question on other bb''s and have found everything from humorous events, to others much more specific about sailing schools and formal instruction. what are your feelings about proper learning techniques? bubba asks "howd'' yall lern ta sail?" how did you do it, where did you learn, would you recommend this to others?

JeffC_ 01-31-2004 01:34 PM

sailing schools-vs-seat of your pants learning to sail
My schooling:

I read "basic sailing" books, bought a dinghy and spent two seasons flipping it over and laughing at myself in a local sheltered bay (that''s where I really cut my teeth), then took a sailing course on a small (24'') keelboat w/ inboard diesel while buying and shakedown-sailing my own 22'' swingkeel trailerable w/ outboard motor during my third season.

I learned something during each phase, though I must admit that the sailing lessons did more to confirm that I already had basic the basic skills, rather than to teach me anything new. I attribute this to my voracious reading and willingness to try out my book-learning in that responsive little dinghy. (Anyone remember the 14'' plywood and mahogany half-decked <em>Enterprise</em> class that was made extinct by Lidos? Jeff? I still have it in my garage).

But that''s just the kind of learner I am: I want to read about it thoroughly so that I don''t look like a fool out on the water, then try it out for myself, where my mistakes will be my own. I like taking that risk without the teacher looking over my shoulder. That made my first attempts at benign practices like anchoring in settled weather and heaving-to seem like real risk-taking, but all the more rewarding for the sense of self-reliance and accomplishment they yielded.

That said, I realize that I''m unusual in that regard, and I recommend sailing schools to everyone, unless you''re a hard-headed indivualist like I am who wants to claim every little success for yourself and who doesn''t mind making mistakes until <em>you</em> decide you''re competent. Sailing schools give a good basic knowledge and the foundation of confidence needed to step out on your own.

I personally believe that after you''ve completed the sailing course, a small (25'' max.) keelboat with a tiller is the biggest first boat to own or learn to sail on, because it is so much more responsive and will put you on a steeper learning curve, put you in less danger under most learning conditions (handling, stress on rigging, approaching a dock or slip under power, etc.) and is easier to quickly get out of trouble with than a bigger, less tender boat is. And a dinghy is even better, if your age and agility and the local climate allow. But there are others on this board who have different opinions, and there''s plenty of room below this post for them.

Sailing school is definitely not a waste of money, and can give you the basic skill set and the confidence to begin to enjoy the sport independently (many schools run a side business by renting boats to their certified students by the hour, and in my area it''s just about the only way to rent a small keelboat for the afternoon); but it just covers surface (no pun intended) skills. The real teacher (for me, anyway) is the practice you get after the class is over.

Hope this is Helpful,
Jeff C

Jeff_H 01-31-2004 06:00 PM

sailing schools-vs-seat of your pants learning to sail
Enterprise 14, Nice boats, Jack Holt multichine design that was mostly sold as a kit boat in the early days. What''s it doing in your garage not out on the water in the summers?


Jeff_H 02-01-2004 05:43 AM

sailing schools-vs-seat of your pants learning to sail
Back to the original question, which seems to be two separate questions:
-How should one learn to sail (i.e. school vs self-taught)
-How did you learn to sail?

I don''t think that there is one universally right answer to the first question. People learn to sail in all kinds of ways and to a great degree their own personalities and really shape how they learn best. I am a big believer in reading and then getting out and just doing it BUT I also strongly believe that sailing with more knowledgeable sailors is critical to learning how to sail well and that you can end up with a lot of misconceptions if you don''t occasionally have a more knowledgeable sailor looking over your shoulder once and a while. If you can''t get to sail with more knowledgeable sailors for free then perhaps a school makes sense.

I have literally taught 100''s of people to sail in my lifetime. Almost from the beginning I have had a pretty standard routine that I follow. I usually give a very basic pencil talk on how sails, keel and ballast work and what it means when the teletales act up and then we go sailing. I usually start out by having them steer to the teletales on a beat which helps them get used to the feel of the tiller (or wheel). I then put the boat on a reach and have them trim the jib to a poorly held course so they get to understand how the teletales work and how angle of attack works. Then I will have them trim the mainsail teaching the basics of mainsail trim; twist, camber and angle of attack and how these are controlled by sheet, traveler, outhaul and backstay.Throughout the whole process I am explaining terms and how things operate as the student is being exposed to them. I then work on basic boat handling skills; tacking, jibing, picking up a mooring under sail, man over board drills, steering a straight course looking at something on land and then sailing a straight course watching a compass. And then we simply sail putting all of that to use with me throwing out pointers.

What I can tell you is that everyone plots their own course from there. For some that is all that they ever want to know. Others read extensively and come back with in depth questions. Some get on race boats to learn more about sail trim. Some ask about navigation, anchoring and how to properly tie up a boat. Some take advanced sailing courses at places like J-World or advanced cruising courses, or go through Power Squadron or Coast Guard Auxiliary courses. The ones that follow my advice usually buy a small boat and spend a bunch of time sailing her as well as reading like crazy. They will often bombard me with huge quantities of increasingly sophisticated questions as they see things, experiment and read. That groups tend to learn very quickly and end up with both a greater range of knowledge as well as a deeper understanding of what they have encountered.

As to the second question, I first sailed 42 years ago when I was 11 years old. It was in an aluminum sail boat (probably a Grumman Gull) at a summer camp. I would like to think that I loved sailing from that very first sail, but that probably is not true. I remember very little about the sail except that the counselor did not really seem to know much about sailing, that the winds were light for most of the sail and I was a little bored, but my most vivid memory was of one brief moment when a small gust hit and the boat heeled and accellerated. I sometimes wonder whether I never would have tried sailing again if that one brief gust had not occurred.

My family started sailing when I was 13. My folks had taken their first mid- summer vacation and had gone to the beach. They had perfect beach weather and so after two or so days had become a bit bored with doing not much of anything. They had seen a sailboat rental and decided to rent a boat. In those days, most small boat rental places had some kid who would teach you to sail in a morning and then you would be on your own. Mom and Dad had the mandatory morning course and then spent the rest of their vacation puttering around in a rented Sunfish. They were hooked. And immediately began to look for a boat to buy.

By late August they had put down a deposit on a new boat, but the company folded and they began to look for a used boat. By early October we had purchased a 25 footer.

Dad and I read whatever we could get our hands on. The boat was a mess and dad tore into whatever needed to be done, doing much of the work himself. I tagged along and helped learning about varnishing, painting, bedding hardware, making fiberglass repairs, sanding and oiling teak, lubing winches, and the dozens of small jobs that were required to keep up a boat.

That first winter Dad enrolled in the Power Squadron''s Basic Seamanship and Navigational courses and I enrolled in the New York Junior Power Boater Licensing course which was required to operate a boat under power if you were under 16. I also audited the Navigation course but could not actually take the course because I was too young. That was all of the formal courses that I ever took in sailing. The rest I learned by reading, sailing, attending lectures and by the kind assistance of those who knew more than I did.

Dad learned quite quickly and he pulled me along with hime. He and I would talk sailing in much the same way that most kids my age talked baseball or football. Our first sail with the new boat was on a day when the winds reached into the mid-20 knot range and over the course of the day, Dad was able to handle some very tricky manuevers reciting the step by step processes that he had committed to memory. We watched as a Dragon lost its rig and 110 lost its boom and we later heard that the 12 meter Columbia lost its mast. We jibed down and came up along side of the Dragon to offer assistance in the short chop and gusty conditions, maintaining control all of the time. (It is amazing how much Dad had learned in three or four days of sailing plus a winter of reading. Mom and I handled the jibsheets)

When I was 14 I bought a 10 foot sloop with money that I had saved doing odd jobs, and sailed whenever, and wherever, I could and that taught me a lot about boat handling. After two seasons with the 25 footer my family moved up to a 32 footer. When I was 15, my family lived aboard for the summer. I participated in a summer Jr Sailing Program that taught me the racing rules and the basics of tactics. By the end of that summer I could sail the family 32 footer in and out of the dock with a rag tag bunch of frieds that I had taught to sail, and was very comfortable with most aspects of coastal cruising and racing.

When I was 14, I decided that I wanted to be a yacht designer. Our family had a friend who was a designer with Sparkman and Stephens and he was kind enough to tutor me in yacht design. I began designing boats around that time although I was in my early 20''s before the first boat was actually built to one of my designs.

I have worked as a yacht designer at various times in my life and my employers have generously shared their wisdom with me. I have attended yacht design symposium for the past 20 years and have had no fear about asking a large number of designers some whom are house hold names and highly respected like Olin Stephens and Bruce Farr, questions that came up in the course of the lectures, and they have been gracious enough to endulge me with an answer.

I must say that by biggest breakthroughs came out of the kindness of those who helped me all along the way, some in their writings and others with their time spent along the way, which is mostly why I try to return these favors by trying to be helpful to others on sailing forums and BB''s.

That''s about it,

Jeff_H 02-01-2004 06:08 AM

sailing schools-vs-seat of your pants learning to sail
Oh yeah, much of what I know about yacht maintenance and about how various boats are built, I learned working in boat yards while I was a teenager and in college. I also learned an enormous amount about how boats were built and how the business works when my Mother was in developing her lines of boats during the years that she was a boat importer.

To this day, I still read extensively, and also enjoy sailing with different folks at all levels of sailing which allows me to experience a lot of different boats in a year and learn from that as well.


tybeefolk 02-07-2004 09:54 AM

sailing schools-vs-seat of your pants learning to sail
you know i don''t believe either of you are old enough to be my dad; kinda, sorta, wish i was young, so i could tag along and learn sailing from you.8^) i''ve had a very similar experience in my boating years, but all of it on powerboats and motor yachts. i grew up in a family of power boaters, starting small with a flat bottom skiff (the kids boat) and my dads
16/18''run-a-bout, growing larger 25''bertram, & larger 40''buddy davis designed fisher, and even larger, then smaller, smaller. i was the youngest onboard and therefore the one given the worst jobs. i learned to CLEAN, and SHINE everything that needed cleaning, polishing or shining. oddly enough, these early years didn''t destroy or drive me away from boating. the first paying job i ever had was working at the marina where our family boats were kept. during early summer mornings i would ride my bike to the marina, spend the day doing whatever needed to be done, washing the bottoms of boats and helping guide ''Bill'' the tractor driver to the proper garage. i think my dad got me the job so i''d stay out of his hair, i don''t remember applying for the job. i guess once exposed you never can get away from it. we both (pam&i) have all of the boating experience we need to be qualified boaters, we are now planning to do it with much less odor, on much less fuel and not hearing the rumble of big diesels. all this to say; thank you for being here for us and those of us with even less water experiences. your knowlege is experience based and there is no better.

Silmaril 02-09-2004 05:48 PM

sailing schools-vs-seat of your pants learning to sail
I grew up on the water. The first and fondest memories I have are when I went fishing with my dad and grandfather when I was about 5 or 6. It was on an aluminum john boat in Norwalk Harbor, Long Island Sound. (Famous for their oysters)

When I was 10, I was in private school, and my vacation schedules were different from all the neighborhood kids, so I did not have many playmates. My father decided that what I needed to do was get involved in something, so he went out and bought a used Blue Jay for $500, enrolled me in a sailing school at our yacht club, and I was hooked.

We had class every day, the mornings were spent in the class room, discussing everthing, sail trim, weather, tacking, jibing, race starts... you name, it our instructors covered it. I met friends there that 37 years later I still keep in touch with. Afternoons were out on the water. And being a yacht club, we spent the afternoon on the race course. Beginners did not use a spinnaker but intermediates and advanced did.

On the weekend we had the yacht club race series to worry about. I was thrown into it all and learned to live, breath, eat and sleep sailing every summer.

The Blue Jay took me through 3 summers of sailing. It may seem odd, but the award I most enjoyed winning every year was not the series trophy for racing at my level, but the "Shipshape" award for the most well prepared and properly maintained boat in the junior area. Hey, I always liked things in their proper place, cleaned and put away.

After that, the next step up was to Lightnings. And what a step it was! More boat, more crew, stiff competition. It was an incredible time for me. All the subtle nuances to sail trim and rig tune. Always learning from the older kids, always trying to beat them at their own game on the race course. Class was now all day on the water. Doing starts over and over, going head to head with the other sailors, trying out for the right to be selected to represent the yacht club at the LIS championships.

The JYRA of LIS made a quantum change in 1973 by choosing the Fireball (over the Olympic class 470) as the boat of choice for the championships. Mine was a well turned out rule beater that was one of the fastest on the ''Sound. Lost out on a rule technicality for the championship''s but enjoyed the boat emensely.

A personal tragedy kept me off the water for a year, but on my return, in ''74 it was in "Big Boats" There were a number of Nautor 44''s that were raced out of Indian Harbor Yacht Club. These were not the foo-foo teak decked dandies that most think of when they think "Swan". There were about 5 of them, almost level racing against each other. Quite a sight at the starting line. These boats were raced hard, and had no expense spared. I worked the bow, the mast, the main, trimming the chute, you name it. My years in dingies put me in the mind set of doing whatever it took to make a boat go fast.

Block Island Race Weeks, Bermuda races, Annapolis-Newport, Newport-Halifax, NYYC Cruises. Good crew were always in demand. When I wasn''t racing in the "bigs" there was always my father''s C&C 35 MK I. Most kids would skip school to play hookey at the penny arcades, I did it to take my dads sailboat out for the day. (He never did catch me, rest his soul)

On to college! Was recruited by the sailing team and raced a variety of boats, 420''s, sunfish, tornados. I was even talked into teaching the college''s sailing course. I had to submit my course outline to the dean of students, it was accepted, and I taught a college accredited course! 2 credits, one hour lecture, one hour lab, mid terms, and finals! I was a professor of sailing!

Summers were spent working at the local marinas, doing whatever grunt work was required. Anything as long as it kept me near boats. After school, spent a couple of years working in marinas. Using my engineering knowledge to do proper installation of electronics and systems, comissioning hundreds of boats. Saw some pretty amazingly dumb things during that time and discovered that not every person had a heartfelt love of the "right way" of doing things.

Tightest racing I ever did? Atlantic Class sloops out of Cedar Point Yacht Club. Man, did that fleet know what they were doing!

Most impressive? Campainging as a trimmer on a 52'' Frers Admirals Cupper.

Most rewarding? Continuing my slow and steady resoration of the mid 70''s IOR rocketship Heritage 1 Ton I rescued back in ''99.

I''ve been sailing for 37 years, and not a moment of it is regretable. I think of myself first and foremost as a sailor. (topsiders, no socks, in February, in Connecticut)

I don''t know it all. Never said I did. But one of the best tings I ever heard about boats came from Olin Stephens. We had just completed a weekend series, where he was in the "afterguard" on a boat I was crewing on. Sitting around after the races were over and sharing a libation or two, he said that one of the greatest truths was in the eye. If it "looked right" it probably was. If it "looked fast" it probably was. And things that just did not look right, were probably inherently bad. Use your "eye" he said, it will tell you a lot about a design.

I''ve brought a number of beginners on board my boat to introduce them to sailing. Being a true "Corinthian" I do not charge or accept payment. Just knowing that I have introduced someone to the wonders of sailing is more than enough for me. There is just something magical in harnessing the wind and moving your vessel to a place that you want, in a time that you want. Just pure magic!

GordMay 02-09-2004 11:45 PM

sailing schools-vs-seat of your pants learning to sail
Let me get this straight - you think the all-day sailing seminar (I was thinking of taking) might be a little light on some of the practical sailing skills? :)
Great story!!!

Silmaril 02-14-2004 03:36 PM

sailing schools-vs-seat of your pants learning to sail
Well, I would have to say that the best way to start to learn the sport of sailing is in a smaller centerboard craft, in the 14 - 16 ft range. Main, jib, spinn.

The S&S designed tandem of the Lightning and the Blue Jay was a very well thought out concept to take a beginner through the basics and then graduate to a more sophisticated craft.

I liked the Blue Jay because it would teach you the basics of sail control and trim angles. The basics of balance in the boat, how the trim of centerboard affected your speed. Your weight was used to balance and your felt its affect on boat dynamics. The Spinn was easily handled and taught you all the basics, pole height and angle to the wind, spinn sheet trimming, the occasional planing situation.

The Lightning introduced the concept of seperate controls for the wire and the cloth along the luff of the jib, and the management of draft on a sail. The main shape was dictated by the adjustable backstay, luff tension and mainsheet. Along with barberhaulers for the jib leads you could also manage your slot. The Spinn was substantially larger and had to be treated with respect by a three man crew in anything over, say, 12 kts of wind. The centerboard, now a 300lb piece of steel, needed to be minded. Its'' fractional rig coupled with its'' sophisticated tuning cababilities, you could easily manage the sailplan to winds in excess of 20tks.

Mastry of the Blue Jay would probably only take about 5 to 10 days stick time with a competent tutor.

The Lightning would take another 10 days to learn to sail well, but maybe years to master. It is a truly great design.

Once you became comfortable handling the Lightning, everything else is just a bigger or smaller example of the basic techniques.

The most startling thing going up in size is the amazing increase in loads on critical systems. You learn to respect and manipulate the loads safely, how to manage your sailplan for the conditions. How to change gears and why.

The more time you spend out on the water in different craft and conditions, the greater your knowledge will be.

It is always important to test out and become familiar with all the possible rig combinations you may encounter on a boat. That includes setting the storm sails, or practicing how to quickly shorten sail in a blow.

Dry walkthoughs are helpful. On calm day, its easier to become familiar with a setup than it is on a pitching deck with spray blowing in your face.

BigRed56 02-15-2004 04:47 AM

sailing schools-vs-seat of your pants learning to sail
Ahoy, de best way is to buy yer own boat plan a trip offshore and iffin ye come back your meant to sail. Iffin ye don''t come back well ye propably won''t have much time to think about it.AARRGGHH Pirate of Pine Island (sailed me first boat out of me Mothers canal)

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