Join Date: Aug 2010
Location: New Mexico, USA (Heron, Elephant Butte lakes); Arizona (Lake Pleasant)
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Re: I want to learn how to sail and then eventually start to race...
Welcome! My son is a college sailor, although on a small intramural team on a shoestring budget. College sailing is great for teaching tactics, basic boat handling, and starts. Because the fleets are usually big-ish, the boats are rugged but not super-fancy, and the courses are typically short, it isn't generally as good for learning tuning and boat speed (frequently adjusting the rigging and controls of more sophisticated boats that are found in higher-level competition such as the Olympics).
If you are particularly interested in solo/Laser sailing, it makes sense to find a Laser fleet somewhere around your area, and sail with the Laser fleets as well as in college. You may be able to afford a middle-level boat that's good enough to let you compete and spend lots of time on the water and get to know the equipment really well. Some areas have sailing co-ops, community sailing centers, and sailing and yacht clubs that might have boats available; keep searching and networking until you find what you need.
And, even if you aren't wanting to go into keelboats as your focus, crewing on race boats is a very cheap way to learn skills. Be there, be reliable, be humble, and build a good reputation. And who knows, if you plug into a local yacht or sailing club and start crewing on big boats, you might get lucky and find someone who has a nice dinghy you could use.