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I know nothing about sailing. I don't even know what I need to know. What skills does a sailor need to learn? How do the various skills rate in terms of immportance? What is the best way to learn them?
 

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Start simple. An introduction to sailing book from the library may help you get the basic idea. Then I would look for a dinghy sailing school. A lot of clubs here run them. You learn by doing and having fun. Under supervision you can actually start basic sailing without knowing much or overcomplicating it.
You can then build on that with further training, maybe crewing for others, and some reading etc as your interest grows.
I suggest a dinghy class because you learn most of the basics directly even if some of the others are youngsters. If you start by crewing on a keeler you are more likely to be ballast on the rail and learn relatively little. However by being around a club you will get other chances. You may also find that if you are keen to learn and reliable there are plenty of people who otherwise singlehand who would be happy to have some crew.
 

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I would also recommend joining a U.S. Power and Sail Squadron in your area. They offer many low cost classes about all aspects of boating, and a good place to meet like minded people.
 

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The most important thing is common sense, but I'm not sure how you "learn" it. The rest is easy - sailing is very mechanical.
 

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If you buy a dingy to learn, get some advice on what to buy. Some dingies are notoriously difficult to sail and some are real easy. If you pick the wrong one it'll spoil your desire to learn how.

Get some practical advice also about the fundamentals of sailing from a local club or someone else who already sails. Most sailors are happy to share their knowledge but as with the choice of boats, be careful who you listen to. Some sailors are really pedantic about stuff and will take away all the fun of sailing (like suggesting you carry a knife on your belt at all times :) and to stay tethered to your boat no matter what :D ).

Try to remember that sailing is not inherently dangerous although it may seem so when listening to the wrong person. As Johnshasteen said, sailing is mostly common sense. But then to some, so is quantum physics.
 

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The most essential skills for a sailor are the ability to make decisions and follow up on them, the ability to care for and maintain a piece of property, and the ability to know his own limits and safely push them. That's probably in order of decreasing importance.

If the sailor is also going to be a skipper, then the other essential skill is the ability to get other people to want to take orders from him.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
I recently bought a book about celestial navigation. does anyone know where I can purchasea sextant? I'd like to start shooting the stars
 

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This spring there will be lots of low cost "learn-to-sail" classes offered by various organizations, such as some local YMCA's, the US Coast Guard Auxiliary, the US Power Squadron, and the Parks and Recreation Departments of some local cities. Many of those classes will include on-the-water instruction on small sailboats, such as Sunfish. Those courses usually provide very good basic instruction. After that, you'll have a lifetime to improve on those basic skills. I'd start by calling those organizations and asking them about any basic sailing courses that they have scheduled.

Some very nice Davis plastic sextants are always listed for sale on Ebay, and can be bought for a reasonable price, and those would be excellent for learning purposes, or even for actual, ocean-crossing navigation.
 

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A good book to get would be David Seidman's The Complete Sailor, which is about $16 down at the bookstore.

The Davis sextants will work for learning and are reasonably priced.
 

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Being new to sailing myself I would recommend you study the book SD recommended and take a ASA 101 class. If you take the class don't let them teach you on anything larger than a 30'. Small boats are best to learn on and tiller steering.

I haven't take a class. I do wish I had.

I own a 22' and crew on a 41'. Things happen faster on a smaller boat.
 

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I know nothing about sailing. I don't even know what I need to know. What skills does a sailor need to learn? How do the various skills rate in terms of immportance? What is the best way to learn them?
The skills are too numerous to list here. The Canadian Yachting Association standards might be a good place get an impression of what you are in for.

The best way is to get some hands-on instruction for an reputable school / instructor. Then practice, practice, practice; especially before attempting the next level.

Jack
 

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Go to a library and find a simple book. Do NOT start off by buying a boat. Take some lessons on a dinghy. (A dinghy is simply a small sailboat.) Look in the phone book for local sailing schools and yacht clubs. The advantage of learning on a dinghy is they are easier to handle but they also give such immediate and good feedback that you will learn much faster than you would on a bigger boat. Buy a boat only if you catch the bug. I expect you will but not everybody does.

It is not nearly as daunting as it seems. Get out on the water!
 
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