I "learned" to sail eons ago in a Laser. Easy stuff: point the boat, haul in on the mainsheet and go. If you dump the boat, right it and try again.
Decades later I "learned" to sail on keelboats in the 35-40' range. Still pretty easy stuff: raise the sails, point the boat, fiddle with the sails and go. If that failed, fire up the diesel and motor back to dock.
This weekend I think I really "learned" how much about sailing I have yet to learn, courtesy of a 26-foot MacGregor with a cranky outboard. It took us about 15 minutes to sail to the middle of the lake on a nice beam reach and over an hour of hijinks to get back in shifting, light winds. At one point the leeway was so bad, we were moving sideways faster than we were moving ahead.
I realize the MacGregor isn't known for its fantastic sailing performance, but I don't think I ever realized how lucky I have been sailing well-designed boats and how much a good boat can compensate for actual lack of sailing ability. We had our asses handed to us in the gentlest of ways—it was a hoot.
A few things I learned that don't work so well in a more cantankerous boat with a less-than-competent crew:
- tacking: on one particularly attempt at tacking we had to try 3 times to get the boat to actually swing through the wind. Never happened to me before—I mean we weren't even in irons, it just wouldn't go that far until we finally built up enough speed.
- leeway: as I mentioned above we were moving into the reeds sideways with little or no luck making forward progress. And the helmsman at the time kept thinking "surely we can make it ... it's only a hundred feet..." Nope. We ended up having to tack around and head back out.
- where's the wind?: no wind instruments and a big enough boat that it actually mattered, had us doing things like wetting our fingers and sticking them out to try and actually figure out our point of sail. And doing it badly
- lack of maneuverability at low speeds: the Macgregor may have two rudders but, at one point we were hanging off the transom to see if they were actually in the water. Let's just say the docking wth a slight crosswind was hilarious to the party we left drinking and watching on the shore.
- poor ballast: The MacGregor is big enough that I was surprised very time I moved from one side of the boat to another and affected the degree of heel.
- winches and sail trim: I had to use a rolling hitch to unbind the the sheet from the teeny-tiny winch after screwing up trying to get it into a teeny-tiny jam cleat.
The best one was the total chaos that resulted from the lack of a topping lift when we dumped the mainsail. The boom drops into the middle of the cockpit and on to the helmsman while we busy ourselves at the mast fussing with trying flake the sail neatly, completely ignoring the poor guy who is trying to start the engine and regain steerage as we once again drift sideways into the reeds along the lake shore.
It was an awesome day and I am so looking forward to getting my ass handed to me again next time.