While many of us will be bewitched by the sight of flying AC45s in the America’s Cup World Series or the carnage currently taking place in the Transat Jacques Vabre, very few of us will ever be mentally or physically fit enough to sail a foiling IMOCA 60 or catamaran.
In learning to sail, it helps to have a direction of travel in your own right. I for one have learned the hard way that I am not a 25 year old in physique or fitness, and though we all have our dreams, it is still possible to have lots of fun enjoying a slower paced life afloat while watching young men ply their trades in elite sailing.
This piece will look at the different things to consider for dinghy sailing, and next week we will look at the different types of yachting.
As a general rule, the heavier and slower a boat the more forgiving she will be. She will be less likely to flip in a strong wind, saving you from having to swim in cold water whilst getting her upright again.
This is not to say that the larger, slower vessels such as the Wayfarer are solely for beginners. It just means that the more experienced you are the harder you can push them.
At my Bedfordshire sailing club I once went down to see what the weather was like – it was a screaming gale and a good 10 knots of wind faster than I’d ever sail aboard my Supernova. There were two vessels on the water – a windsurfer flying along at 25mph plus, and a Wayfarer going like a tank in battle under a double reefed main. Though I envy the windsurfer for the nutty speeds he was doing I knew the better boat for me was the Wayfarer!
You should consider whether you want to go afloat solo or with crew.
Generally solo sailors are better off with a Laser, Supernova, Comet or a similar single hander. These only have one sail and are small and light enough to only need one person aboard.
At 92kg I am too fat to sail a Laser except in conditions it shouldn’t be sailed in – consider your body size before you buy as power to weight ratio is important when it comes to fleet racing.
If you plan on sailing with your partner, be prepared for arguments aboard. There’s many a dinghy club story of how a dirt keen couple learned to sail at the club, bought a whizz bang boat and after a season afloat mysteriously split up and never sailed again!
Dinghies are generally for racing though the larger vessels can be used for going longer distances. Baldly, sailing dinghies is all about going out, getting wet and having a laugh without the need to use a bucket for a shower and toilet but instead using the excellent facilities at your sailing club ashore.
Dinghy sailors do flock together. You will see them in class fleets on tracts of water such as Portland Harbour in Dorset, on San Francisco or Sydney’s harbours as well. Racing is intense and is about shaving the extra half knot or chasing that puff of wind to get that extra edge from your boat.
Racing is mental as well as physical – even three hours of racing over a day can tax the fittest sailors afloat. As an example, it is estimated that a grinder on an America’s Cup AC45F flying catamaran will burn 5000 calories a day. The average daily calorie burn for a man is 2500! In moving about to keep your balance you will exercise your thighs, stomach muscles and back as well as your arms and chest. A few hours of an all over body workout is a great way to burn off the flab – a middle aged man needn’t spend £3000 on a Lycra suit and bicycle to have a fitness focused midlife crisis!
A number of people have spent a summer circumnavigating Ireland on a Wayfarer, covering 150 miles a day and taking in the fantastic scenery on a vessel that has the added advantage of being able to be pulled up a beach and left for the night with your tent beside it, unlike a yacht where in most cases you will leave her afloat and hope she sits at a good angle when the tide goes out…
Even dinghy cruising is far more physical than yacht cruising for the simple reason you do not have a lead keel on dinghies, and have to shift your weight about constantly to keep the boat upright.
The UK’s RYA has a set of qualifications geared toward dinghy cruising and from there you can do an RYA Day Skipper if you want to go sail camping safely.