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I was just pondering this question. What percentage of people do you suppose just picked up sailing on their own? No formal or even informal lessons. No onboard guidance from more experienced hands. Just got a boat, maybe did some reading but otherwise learned via trial and error? Whatchathink?
 

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I'm one! I took a ride on my brother-in-laws Hobie Cat and decided I wanted to learn. Bought a book and a Gulf Coast 13 (similar to Sunfish) back in the '80's and learned to sail. I shortly bought a Southcoast 23 and sailed it for awhile. I went nuts and sold it to buy a fixer upper Chris Craft Constellation. Fixed it up and sold it. Bought an AMF Sunbird and still have it. Bought a Hunter 23.5 and still have it too. I finally, a few years ago began taking ASA courses to get some formal training so I could charter bigger boats and have been sailing boats up to 42'. So yes, you can learn to sail with books but most charter companies want you to have some training.

Kevin
 

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Great question as I'm looking to learn myself.I've been powerboating for 20 years and did have my father take me out to show me a few things but I picked up on it right away,I'm hoping sailing comes just as easily.I'm on the fence right now and I think this thread will help.
 

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I'm one.

WAY back around 1964 or so a friend and I made our way from the Chicago area to Galveston Tx. Got there broke and contacted my friends bother living in the area. He had no room for us, but did have a 24 ft Columbia Challenger sailboat and let us stay aboard. He said "IF" we read a book he let us have and could show we could sail, we could use the boat. Took us a week and we were ready.

I had an epiphany! Once I was away from the dock, there was no more cost to go across the gulf or around the world!

From there, I was hooked!!

Greg
 

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We had the help of an experienced friend for our inaugural 20 nm delivery, and a few hours more the next day. Picked up a copy of "Royce's Sailing Illustrated".

After that it was trial by fire since it blew close to 20 knots every afternoon where we were. Patience and a forgiving first boat (Shark 24) got us through that first summer. Haven't looked back since.
 

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Windseeker
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Not I....

Sure it can be done but you can spend a lot of time not knowing you're doing something wrong without some helping hand.

Basics I learnt from my Grandpa, then yearly holidays as a teenager spent on a lake, in an amazing facility which gave us minimal instruction and let us loose, popping up with helpful suggestions (loosen the outhaul, trying letting out more mainsheet, use more/less vang, lift the centreboard etc) but also there to take us out on trapezes for the first time, or take a more active role with those less comfortable with capsizing every few minutes when the wind came up.

I'd imagine it's possible to get a lot from youtube these days, and that things are a LOT more forgiving with a keel (I learnt on Lasers, GP14s, Enterprises, Mirrors etc). But getting someone onboard who can jumpstart your sailing career seems like a no brainer, much more fun when the boat is moving forwards and under some level of control.

As I approach a thousand days actively sailing there is still much learn and I still benefit hugely from having more experienced sailors onboard. Don't always agree with them but often learn things that would otherwise take me much longer to stumble on either in real life or through book and internet study.

Doesn't mean you can't start without instruction but the first bit of learning is the steepest and the bigger the boat the more damage can be done if you make mistake. Some people get lucky, others less so.
 

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One of None
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I guess there is some kind of mystery about it? But I'm not one that likes mysteries so, I got a book and started reading. That, with going to Maine and out on a few wind jammers once a year made me anxious to get a boat. My only mistake was I listening to other people telling me to get a small boat when I wanted a 30 or larger.
 

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69' Coronado 25
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I tried to sail once in a 7 ft. dinghy when I was about 10 years old, didn't turn out well, just couldn't figure it out. I never lost the sailing bug, I'd be sitting on my surfboard in the line up and instead of watching the swells I'd be focused on the sailboats offshore. Eighteen years after my dinghy experience I couldn't take it any more and I bought a Venture 21, I moved up to a MacGregor 25 the up to a Catalina 30. I taught myself and read books, I raced in short harbor races and some long distance races. Each time out I improved and became a pretty good sailor.
 
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Never took an ASA course or other. But was blessed with exposure to good sailors. Would day sail,then longer and longer coastal hops. Then multiple Bermuda races. Then longer open water transits.
I don't think you learn much from the courses. Have had several crew with several courses behind them who were unsafe to stand watch or pilot. I think when you spend multiple uninterrupted days with good sailors you learn a lot. When you see how different people do the same thing different ways you learn even more.
I think you need to read and understand basic sail shape theory. I think you need to read and understand basics of weather. Going out without knowing the rules of the road and how to navigate is just foolhardy. But these things are self taught. Only formal course I took was in celestial. You need a planetarium for it to click and make sense.
I will take further Mack boring courses and weather courses but these are not really sailing courses.
I would suggest best way to learn is to crew for different captains or if you are a captain have different crew on your boat.
I was told " when you stop learning you better be dead or you soon will be".
One of the greatest things about sailing is there is always something more to learn
 

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Working for next Boat
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Started out DIY, and read anything i could get my hands on, talked more ears off then i can count and got my first boat and hit the water. I later took ASA 101 and plan on getting more Formal Certificates in the coming 2 years or so.
 

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I bought my first sailboat a 26 ft center cockpit S-2 never ever having even been on a sailboat before. The first sailing experience was with the prior owners in taking the boat from Annapolis south some 40 miles to the boat's new home. The next weekend I took the boat out on the bay on my own for a day sail and on the return almost went aground because I mistook the harbor entrance. Prior to that I had owned a very small power boat and enjoyed exploring the waters on a large lake in south central VA. When I moved to the DC area, a sailboat made more sense for exploring the Chesapeake. The only formal training was a power squadron coarse when I first bought that power boat. I did a lot of self study and even sat for my captain's license by self study passing 4 out of the 5 tests. I got an 85 on the safety part which failed since a 90 was needed to pass. You never stop learning and I found that most of the most knowledgeable sailors are the ones self taught and learn at their own pace.
 

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Chastened
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The OP's definition of "self taught" is pretty tight.

I don't qualify. I read books and was given lots of advice in various online forums. It's true that I just jumped into my boat and went sailing, but all the reading and advice prepared me. I didn't just "figure it out" in the boat.
 

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Freedom isn't free
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lots of sailing when I was a kid with Dad. Really started when I was 9... Got my first boat, when I was 11...

So I guess I learned from Dad primarily (we sailed a lot when I was 11-15). I REALLY started to learn for real when many years later I got my own boat again, a Capri 14.2, I was 30. I never sailed with Dad again, he no longer had a boat by that point.

I only sailed my capri 14.2 about 8 times, over 8 years... yep, (long story)...

4 years ago I took up sailing again and bought a Capri 22... It was the best jump to a keelboat I could have made. That boat taught me lots. I got a thirst for speed... and moved up to a race boat, a Capri 25. I sailed that Capri 25 hard to 2.5 seasons in our club race series. I placed overall 2nd in my 2nd year racing ever (myself), short of crew most times just being 2 of us. I placed 8th last year and I missed 3 of our 8 races, and was race committee for a 4th. I missed the last 3 races because I sold my boat, and was on the hunt for another boat.

My present boat is an S2 7.9, slightly faster than the Capri 25 (splitting hairs faster)... but I am now out to learn more by sailing the same boat as our clubs best sailors.. this SHOULD afford me an ability to learn quicker while racing, but knowing immediately if I am sailing better or worse.

These last 4 years have taught me more about sailing than I can recount... most of it being about rigging, repairs, and upgrades. How critical it is to buy GOOD equipment and why... the performance, and safety that are inherent in those upgrades.

I am BY NO MEANS an expert... and I have tons to learn, especially through reading, asking people here, and actually doing... To sail is to always learn, something I find quite fascinating for this "sport." As has been quoted before, "Sport should have it so good."
 

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At my Helms 27
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Crewing on a Lightening when age 15 taught me the basics - an irreplacable experience. Crewing as an adult on much larger boats, racing, off shore experiences added much more. Now 80 and solo sailing my forth sailboat (Helms 27), I see the value of the early years.
Bill
 

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