SailNet Community banner
  • SailNet is a forum community dedicated to Sailing enthusiasts. Come join the discussion about sailing, modifications, classifieds, troubleshooting, repairs, reviews, maintenance, and more!

Doesn't Anyone Start on Small Boats Anymore?

4857 Views 41 Replies 26 Participants Last post by  CalebD
If you're looking to buy your first sailboat do yourself a favor, buy a dinghy or two, one for the wife wouldn't hurt, and learn to sail. If you must have something to sleep on, please nothing bigger than 20 feet. Sail that around for a year, give yourself time to learn what you do and don't like. Try different rigging and sail handling ideas. Learn how much work, money and time go into upkeep and new systems. Learn how much it costs to replace and repair things as well as scheduled bottom paintings and maint.

I just spent a hour on the phone trying to talk a guy out of buying my 27 footer as his first boat. For my sake I hope he didn't listen.

This is just my opinion I'm sure many of you will chime back in with. "My first boat was a 30 footer and I got along just fine" and you probably did, but if you ever want to have a docking or anchoring under sail contest....ohhh how about backing in a slip under sail alone!!!! You're on!

As I buy bigger boats I'm amazed at how cost and labor go up. I recently read a thread about people trading back down. Thats what I did. 27 feet is just to much. I still had the most fun and sailed the most with my 19 footer. Hopefully this new 23 footer will provide the same.

I've spent the last three weeks rebuilding an entire head/waste system, replacing rigging, waterpumps, haulouts...give me small and simple anyday.
1 - 20 of 42 Posts
Well said, Brandon.
I agree . . . sort of . . .

27 isn't so bad for a starter. I agree that you can learn a lot with a dingy but . . . well I don't know . . .

I personally hope the guy buy's your boat snider . . . for you and for him. 30+ and I'd agree with you 100 percent! Btw . . . Love Charleston . . . I could be very happy living there. I lived in Myrtle Beach 'til I was 9.

Hi Sway!!! Long time no talk! Enjoyed meeting you in Chicago! btw . . . I'm re-reading WFB's "Airborne" before bed at night. "Atlantic high" and "Sailing Through Paradise" are next on the re-read list.
I couldn't agree with you more. It's easy to sail in light winds on flat water, but it's the basics that you learn by feel on a lightweight boat that teach you how to survive the nasties.
i learned on sunfish and then lazers then taught other how to sail sunfish and lasers. i wanted to buy a hobie 2 years ago, but the wife would not even think about going on one.

there are different sailors, some want the small boats some want some comforts. neither is wrong, what they do with their boat is
since i have done most of my sailing on larger vessels the 3o footer i have seemed very small when i first stepped aboard. i wouldn't want anything smaller. i was thinking 40 ft till this came along. i think a person can learn on a vessel this size with proper instruction.
Hey I started on my dad's 18 ft skiff a few decades ago.
I started with a 33 footer on the basis that the movement was slower (I didn't sail until I was 38) and that mistakes at dock would be spread over a larger chunk of gelcoat. While I agree in principle, I moved to a 41 footer for long-range cruising...the 33 footer was simply inappropriate to modify to that end.

But I've kept her and still sail her and will, after a few years, likely pass on the 41 footer, because it's too much boat for the Great Lakes.
I started on a Cornado 15 (#164) in the 70's. I know many folks who learned on 22 to 30 footers on their own and in sailing schools. A good route may be . . . buy the 27 and take classes on small boats. Maybe go for some ASA or US Sailing classes before you buy anything . . . to get the feel before you commit.
OK, I'll admit it. My first sailboat was a 30 ft Catalina. Took the ASA sailing classes on a 30 ft Islander before I bought her. I'd have loved to be exposed to sailing smaller boats before then, but I wasn't. We sailed her for about 8 years, darned near every weekend, and the only trouble we had was running aground once or twice.

I'm proud to say that my daughter learned to sail a dinghy that we bought shortly after the catalina. Nothing quite like seeing your little girl sail around the anchorage on her own...

That said, I have no regrets about my first sailing experience being on a 30 ft boat.
My first(and current) sailboat is 19'. That said, my first cruising sailboat(for which I'm currently shopping) will likely be high 30s-low 40s.
IMHO it depends on your sailing grounds. If you plan on a 2 week vacation sailing with the family, I would imagine a 22 footer would get a little cramped. And provisions? Carrying your food or eating out in restaurants?

I know there are those that have sailed to the Pacific islands on 27 footers, but really what does that mean? That they're either nuts or really hardy. We know most production boats can make it, and many do so every year, Some guy rowed across the Pacific. I'm not impressed by someones ability to survive on hardtack and salt water. My question would be why?

I would think your first boat should be one you can handle alone . Maybe a dinghy is too big for some and a 30 footer too small for others.
A sailing club membership is the best way to get into sailing. I used to teach a basic sailing course for a club that had a fleet of over 20 boats ranging from Rangers 20's and Cal 22's to a Catalina 30. Members paid monthly dues and the size of the boats available depended on which courses they had completed.

I thought this was a great way for folks to experience sailing on many different types of boats without having to put out a lot of money for a boat before they were sure it was for them. Many members ended up purchasing boats of their own, some decided sailing wasn't for them and others simply enjoyed not having to deal with the expense of maintaining a boat of their own.
I see this a lot in my business (Motorcycle, Watercraft and Jet Boat dealership) and in most cases it's ego, pure ego.

When I was 12 my dad (an air force officer) was stationed at the old Newport RI Navy base for a year. They had a sailing class for military and their families. It was more like basic training. Final exam was to singlehand one of their 26 footers from the slip, around the bay and back into the slip, these boats had no motors. So, I had a good base of understanding when, a year later and now living in Finland, we got a 23 footer. I spent just about every summer day sailing for the next three years.

Years later, now living in Florida, I got a Hobie16. What a fun boat! I think this is one if the best boats for learners. So easy to set-up and sail, and always fun. The Hobie gives you instant feedback and lets you know if that last adjustment was good or bad. Displacment monohull's tend to be more sluggish with feedback, making learning a little more difficult.

When we decided we wanted a weekender I started looking at 23 to 26 footers and found a Westerly Padgent 23. This boat had everything needed for a family of three for weekending and short vacations. I wanted a "stout" boat and the Westerly is about as stout as small boats get. Owned her for 15 years but she never got as much sailing time as that Hobie.

Now, after a 15 year stint of no boat I've decided to start sailing again and found a 28 footer in reasonable shape for a 40 year old girl. She is more work to singlehand but I suspect that will get better as we get to know each other.

i wanted to buy a hobie 2 years ago, but the wife would not even think about going on one.
That's really a shame because they are so much fun to sail. If you could get her to just do one sail (calm day with little chop) she might change her mind. If you can find an old G-Cat in good shape they are even better than a Hobie for the wife. G-Cat's are nearly impossible to flip (you've really gotta be trying) and have a very usable front trampoline so they have a lot more people room.

Sometimes things aren't as logical as they look. Example: We have many customer's who's wives won't allow the kids on a dirt bike but will allow them on ATV's. The logic; four wheels are more stable than two so they must be safer. WRONG! Fact is, when you wreck an ATV (and kids are always going to wreck) it's so stable it falls right on top of you, just about every time and ATV's are a lot heavier than dirt bikes. A two wheeler will usually pitch you off but will rarely fall on you and if it does it's a lot lighter than an ATV.

There is a joy to sailing small boats, solo or as a couple, that you just don't get on larger boats.

See less See more
I took my ASA lessons on 22- 26 ft. boats. After completing basics 1,2 & coastal cruising. 3 months later I bought Frolic a 30ftr. This was in S.F., and there were some days I stayed in the slip, because there was too much wind. The head sail was a 130 on an ancient NICRO? furler that would hang up. Eventually I started buying used hank on sails, and never looked back.......i2f

I am a sailing instructor and licensed Master. The best way to learn how to sail is on a small boat with a tiller. My preference is for small keel-boats around 22 feet. In general (there are exceptions of course) it has been my experience that sailors whom have learned the basics on a small tiller boat grow to be better sailors. When I teach the advanced classes, the students who learn on a tiller tend to do much better and are more skillful/confident on the bigger boats.
I bought a hunter 23 that was a great boat... sold it 11 months later! I did regret buying smaller. I listened to the choir saying "smaller is better" I knew then that I wanted a boat which had the space for walking around in the cabin, cooking, washing, sleeping etc. but I settled for smaller because I ignored my feelings.

So, I don't agree that smaller is always right for newbies. I do agree that newbies need to be very sure they want a boat and will not loose interest almost as soon as they get one.

I often cite the hypothetical couple that loves sailboats, go to a broker buy a new $300K boat. get a few pointers from the broker, then go sail on a nice afternoon. They get caught in a squall, panic,survive the "trial" and never go on the boat again! (it has happened too) broker gets another commission when selling the "used" boat!

I have a great time single handing my O30 but I know my limitations too. Truthfully I don't think I'll ever miss the tiller,outboard, boat.
See less See more
I can see both sides clearly.
I started on a Sunfish when I was 12; If I were new to sailing and wanted to start at say 40 years of age, I certainly would not consider a Sunfish. Although it is an outsatanding learning platform, at 40 it may not be very comfortable.

Like Ian said, where and what are your local cruising grounds? If you sail the Great Lakes, you are going to want something substantial under you for when the wind and seas pick up.

Also, in todays age its not as easy to flip around a boat. Buy something to learn on and trying to sell it a few years later might make sence. But how easy is it to do this? You might be stuck with something for several years while you really feel your ready to move on up to a larger platform.

The thing that really irritates me, is that boat dealers today are all in it for the big bucks.. the bigger the boat, the bigger the commision. When my Father bought his Cal 25-II, (it was and is a very sea worthy boat and could handle a lot) the entry level boat was around 22 - 25 feet. Ask around today what an entry level boat is and the response is likely 30 feet. Why? Bexause the salesman make more money selling a 30 foot boat.
This is the side of the argument that I do not like.
See less See more
Since I am going to live aboard, my plans are to get both, a 30+ sailboat, and a dingy that has sails. That way I can put around for fun in the dingy and will need one anyway. I also want something the kids can take out without taking my house out! Kill 2 birds with one stone. Of course I have experience sailing sunfish/Hobies/lasers but that was many years ago. Also have been out on some bigger boats. It has just been about 18 years. I have room in a garage I rent to store it for the winter, and the marina says that summer storage is included in slip fees.
If you're looking to buy your first sailboat do yourself a favor, buy a dinghy or two, one for the wife wouldn't hurt, and learn to sail. If you must have something to sleep on, please nothing bigger than 20 feet.
Who cares? What's it to you?

I just spent a hour on the phone trying to talk a guy out of buying my 27 footer as his first boat. For my sake I hope he didn't listen.
Why would you go and do a thing like that? :)

Sure, a lot of people think that there's a Right Way to learn how to sail. Start in dinghies, move up to bigger boats, learn your seamanship, climb the mast, tie a bowline with your teeth, blah blah blah, anything less and you'll be a danger to society and an inconvenience to the sailors that know better.

I dunno. People know themselves and they know their situations. If they think they'd be better off starting with a bigger boat, maybe they are. Either way, they'll learn. I've graduated from small boats to bigger boats, and I've never been ready for that bigger boat and its bigger problems/expenses/difficulties, etc. You just figure it out. Or you learn that you can't handle it after all and you bail. C'est la vie. Take up golf.

I say all of this not to be contrarian or to start trouble, but I've met people that get so caught up in doing things the way that's advocated by people on SailNet, or in their sailing magazine, or in their books, that they don't enjoy it and they give up. Sometimes, they don't even understand WHY the recommendation was given, but they know they should follow it. That's not good!

Some of my guests have learned to sail on my boat and they're looking at becoming sailors themselves. They're thinking about buying boats, but there's in no way in hell they'd consider sailing a dinghy. Is that wrong? I wouldn't say so.

My .02.
See less See more
  • Like
Reactions: 1
1 - 20 of 42 Posts
This is an older thread, you may not receive a response, and could be reviving an old thread. Please consider creating a new thread.