Most people who know our school, will recognize our world class J/22 boats before anything else. These boats are amazingly fast, but simple enough to learn how to sail on. The J/22 is also known as a fixed keel mono hull sailboat. Those of you who can remember back to ASA101 theory, will recall that there are 3 major distinctions between sailboats. There are dinghies, keelboats, and catamarans. Today I want to talk about the differences between keelboats and dinghies and more importantly, why you should learn to sail dinghies, even if you already know how to sail!
To begin, we must talk about the safety and stability of keelboats. No matter the size or weight of the boat, a keelboat will always right itself after being knocked down (or broached). Barring the boat taking on water, or someone holding the mast down, a keelboat will always come back upright if you wait long enough. This is why we love teaching on the J/22’s, they have a fixed lead keel that weighs 700lbs. Remember those old inflatable clown punching bags? They operate on the same principle, a bunch of weight in the bottom keeps the clown upright. The boats are fast and safe, and as long as you manage to stay in the boat it will always come back up (take a look at our last entry for more information).
Keelboats are typically bigger, and drier than dinghies. You can have a larger crew (or friends and family) on board and you can explore oceans with them. But, the bigger the boat, the less ‘feel’ you get for how the wind and waves affect you. I use the term ‘feel’ loosely, it can be on bigger boats. There are phenomenal sailors all over the world that exclusively sail on big boats, and that takes a lot of training. My argument for dinghy sailing is that for people who are just starting out, or people who want to get a better understanding of how sailboats move through the water and interact with the wind.
There is no better way to learn this than on a dinghy. Depending on the size of the boat you will be single handed or double-handed at most. This creates a very easy cause and effect chain for you to explore. On bigger boats, there are other crew members contributing to the speed and heel of the boat. On a dinghy, it’s just you. Move the tiller slightly to leeward? The boat heads up. No wondering if someone else affecting the balance or trim of the boat. Ease the main sheet? The boat will start to fall off slightly (assuming your have a jib up). There is no better way to really learn the intricacies of sail trim than when you are alone on a dinghy.
Dinghy sailing is also much more exciting (in my opinion). You are right down at water level, getting sopped with waves as you crash through them on a close-hauled course. You get wet, you get a workout, and you have fun! Having to use your body weight to keep the boat upright is a workout. Hiking out of the boat will test your core strength and your mental strength. All the while keeping a 360-degree field of awareness for wind gusts, waves, other boats, and of course shore. Being so intimate with all these details will give you a fresh perspective on sailing. Over the years I have had many students be skeptical of dinghy sailing.
“I don’t want to get wet! What happens if I capsize?”
My answer is always the same. So what? You will get wet, and you will capsize, that is the point of dinghy sailing. The first thing we teach beginners is capsizing, so that the fear is gone and they have learned the worst thing that can happen to them. No other boat will let you know right away if you make a mistake, a dinghy will let you know by flipping over. You get real time feedback from the boat on how well you are sailing. Plus, learning to dry capsize is a great challenge!
Finally, racing in dinghies is much more accessible to most people. Sailing and racing keelboats can be very cost prohibitive and tough to break into. While dinghies are much cheaper to rent and own! There are also multiple world class dinghies that have fleets all over the world. Everything from the classic Laser, to 420’s and Finns, to our very own Topaz’s! Having access to these boats and learning to race on them will take your sailing skills to the next level. A lot of sailors know how to get around on the water; but learning to race will teach you to get from point A to B as efficiently as possible. You will need to combine sail trim, boat balance, tactics and so much more!
Interested in learning more about dinghies? Join us this summer as we introduce our ASA110 – Small Sailboat Sailing Course!
Disclaimer : This post is not meant to be a hard and fast guide for dealing with gusts! There are many other things that go into dealing with gusty mountain winds, the most important of which is sailor ability. Please remember that your confidence and ability play an important role in being able to sail in difficult conditions.
Believe it or not, Colorado is one of the hardest places to learn how to sail. Learning about the weather and wind patterns in Colorado is probably the most important step to mastering sailing in the Rockies. Weather plays a huge factor in staying safe on a sailboat and knowing how it affects us while sailing will turn a novice sailor into an experienced one. During the summer, Colorado has hot days with very little wind, and stormy evenings with incredible wind spikes and thunderstorms. It’s those wind spikes or gusts that can turn a pleasant outing into a horrible one in seconds. So, what can we do to prepare for these inevitable gusts?
First, we need to look at the general wind patterns for Denver, CO. In the Spring and Fall months we get an average wind speed of about 8.3mph. During the hot summer months that average wind speed drops to 6.9mph. Now that might not seem like a huge difference; but remember that average, means half the time the wind speed is below that mark. We also need to keep in mind the max wind speed during the Spring, Summer, and Fall. Looking at data from Climatology Reports (http://www.thorntonweather.com/denver-climatology.php) we find that during the summer months the maximum wind gust also drops. The average max wind speed stays about the same throughout all the seasons, but we get higher wind speed maxes (around 45mph) during the spring and fall months. Why is this important? In order to prep for wind gusts, we must first understand when they are likely to happen so that we can be prepared for such an outcome before it happens. Keep in mind that these re averages and generalizations, the wind gusts in Colorado can strike even during the hot summer months, especially when there is a thunderstorm on the way.
Now that we know when to expect gusts (unfortunately all the time), we need to know how to prepare! Just like any other sport or skill, you need to practice. The easiest way to prepare is to reef, and reef fast. If you don’t know how fast you can reef your boat, you should time yourself, with a crew and by yourself. If you can’t reef in under a minute you may have some trouble avoiding knock downs when the wind picks up. The gusts don’t come with any warning, by the time you see it, it may already be too late. Look at the wind forecast before leaving the dock, know what you will be sailing in that day. If the forecast calls for gusts, start with a reefed mainsail, or furled genoa. As you get comfortable, you can always shake the reef!
Sail trim is very important when sailing through a gust. Adjusting your trim to avoid knockdowns will be your best ally. As the wind picks up, especially while sailing upwind, you will want to tighten the outhaul, cunningham, backstay, traveller and boomvang. All those adjustments will flatten your mainsail and not allow it to draw as much power. Remember the flatter a sail, the less power it will generate. As you increase draft, you will increase power. For your Jib or Genoa, you will want to pull the blocks aft, this will tighten the bottom of the sail and again, reduce sail power. Adjusting your sail trim allows your boat to remain balanced. Ideally, we have a perfectly balanced boat, if you were to let go of the steering the boat would continue straight. We aim for a slight weather helm, as a perfectly balanced boat is very hard to achieve.
Boat balance is also achieved by shifting body weight side to side, and forward and aft. We don’t want to put a bunch of weight too far forward or aft, as it will bury the bow or give us lee helm. As much as we can, we want to center the weight of the crew around the keel or beam of the boat, this means the skipper is sitting in front of the traveler while steering. On a J/22 we don’t want to have any crew behind the traveler, especially while battling gusty conditions. We also want to have crew on the high side, or windward side of the boat. A flat boat is much easier to control than a boat heeling over. The combination of windward weight and proper sail trim will allow us to drive through the gusts.
Our final adjustment for sailing through gusts, is to literally sail the puffs. As the gust comes, we want to aim the bow into the wind and ride the gust upwind. As our boat turns into the wind (just before stalling) it will flatten out and allow us to keep control. As the gust wanes, we fall off again to pick up speed. The goal is to keep the boat on the same degree of heel throughout all the gusts, heading up and bearing away through each puff. A great racer will be able to pick out the puffs and drive their boat through them without losing any speed or control. Remember, if you can’t control the tiller with only 2 fingers, you are not balanced and out of control (on a J/22 that is).
Gusts are an integral part of sailing in Colorado. Knowing when they strike and how to adjust will help sailors navigate and even enjoy gusts. Practicing reefing and knowing when to reef (early and often), will also go a long way in building confidence through gusty weather. Remember, if you can’t control your boat, you have too much sail up. Reef, get comfortable, and maybe next time you won’t need to reef. Knowing what all the sail trim lines accomplish is also very important, look out over the next few weeks as we will talk about what each line does! For now, remember that on a keelboat if you do get knocked, just wait for the boat to right itself, and don’t forget to close the hatches!
The only people that still talk about why Celestial Navigation is needed are grizzled old sailors, and us. We still talk about it because, the old tried and true method of navigation can’t let you down. It is a great way to learn and enjoy a new skill while sailing and gives you a backup plan in the worst case scenario.
The first argument that comes to mind is, what if your GPS fails? This is a reality that cannot be ignored. Saltwater and electronics get along like pigs in mud. On a boat we marry expensive electronics and saltwater together. Not only do you need to worry about keeping your equipment dry and clean, you also need to make sure they stay charged. If your generator or engine stops working due to bad fuel, lack of compression, electrical gremlins or any other myriad of reasons, you lose access to your GPS. Now what?
At this point you might be thinking ‘Yeah well I don’t have time to learn about Celestial Navigation’. Celestial Navigation is easier to learn and understand than most people think. You need a pencil, paper, a sextant, an Almanac, and a watch. And of course, your pick of celestial bodies. Dive in and learn a skill that helped old world conquerors cross oceans without any electronic guidance. Just a belief that the sun, moon, and stars would guide them safely home. As a sailor, you chose to avoid commercialized ways of travel, to get away from it all. So why not jump in all the way and really escape it? Learn a technique that will make you more confident on the seas, but also put you in the upper echelon of sailors! How many sailors do you really know that can whip out a sextant and plot your course? At worst you’ll learn a beautiful new skill, at best you’ll save your boat and crew from disaster someday.
Finally, the worst-case scenario. Your GPS is hacked or spoofed. I know this may seem like an out of this world problem, but it is happening with more and more frequency. Just this year, a flight from Hong Kong to Manila lost their GPS systems and the pilots were told to find the runway with their eyes (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/gps-is-easy-to-hack-and-the-u-s-has-no-backup/). Do you think you could find land without destroying your boat if you didn’t have GPS? There have been over 50 cases of jammed GPS signals at Manila airport alone. So why does everyone rely on a system that can be so easily overridden? Even the US Navy has gone back to teaching Celestial Navigation to it’s cadets (http://www.astronomy.com/news/2016/09/celestial-navigation-is-returning-to-the-naval-academy-cirriculum). Take a page from the Navy’s book and learn to have a backup. Any prudent sailor should always make sure to collect and learn all the possible resources needed to make their journey a safe one.
Check out our video below on the basics of time and how important it becomes when navigating using celestial bodies
Learn more about Celestial Navigation with Victoria Sailing School’s ASA107 (Celestial Navigation) and ASA117 (Celestial Endorsement) classes. Our online classes can be taken from anywhere, at any time. We have live webinars starting in February every year, but students can also follow the course on their own time any time of year.
There is no other sport in the world that will give your children as much preparation, knowledge, and opportunities in life like sailing. Imagine your children crossing oceans and getting paid to do it! Sailing teaches important life skills, such as awareness, patience, and respect. Learning to sail can also lead to meeting and becoming friends with yacht owners, which is a great network to have.
Every parent wants to see their children succeed. Teaching them skills such as cooking, cleaning, and money handling are great ways to set them up for life. But sports, music, and art also play a huge role in shaping a child’s future. We believe that sailing can be a unique and significant factor in shaping your child’s future. Learning to sail is straight forward; learn how the wind interacts with the sail and away you go. But mastering sailing takes a great amount of patience. Everything from parts of the boat, to weather patterns, to sail trim must be taught. Learning the small intricacies of sail trim can take years of practice. Tell me, do you know what a leech line is, and what it does? Or what the traveler does to the sail shape, and how that affects your angle of attack? Learning these small adjustments not only takes patience, but it also teaches awareness.
No other sport teaches people to think in a 360-degree circle. Sailors must be aware of their surroundings all the time. What’s ahead, astern, to port and starboard. We can’t forget what is above and below the boat as well. No other activity requires this much awareness. This type of awareness will help children when it comes to learning how to drive, manage a school or work load, even with future relationships. It will also instill a sense of community, most sailors rely on each other, and when help is needed there are always enough hands.
Sailing also teaches us respect. Respect for the wind and how it can change at any given moment and force us to adjust our course. It teaches respect for other people’s equipment. Whether that be the boat you chartered for the day, or for other boats on the water. We must take care to avoid crashing and breaking expensive equipment. Sailors also learn to respect the earth. Water is a precious resource; we cannot taint it with garbage or allow pollution to destroy our favorite sailing spot. Sailors learn to take care of the environment, for they spend an awful lot of time enjoying what it has to offer. Respect is a universal language, learning respect early will only set you up to achieve great things in the future.
Teaching your children to sail will also set them up with a huge networking advantage in the future. Imagine, if you will, your kid goes to college on the coast. My piece of advice would be this:
Find the local yacht club and go down there on Wednesday evening. Wednesday’s are for racing at most yacht clubs. Jump on a boat and show up, every Wednesday for 4 years. Mingle with the yacht club members, become friends with them and their kids. After 4 years you’ll have job offers lined up from every member. You’ve just proven that you are reliable, teachable, and willing to work. Think about the type of people who belong to yacht clubs. What kind of job offers do you think you’ll be getting?
How does that sound? It sounds like an investment in learning to sail at a young age can lead to many benefits. Those benefits include, learning patience, awareness and respect. They also include a built-in networking system, a system that can lead to professional success for life. To me, there is no better opportunity in the world than learning how to sail.
Want to learn more about youth sailing programs? Check out our sister company Colorado Watersports (www.coloradowatersports.com). We offer weeklong summer camps for kids to learn how to sail! Opportunities to sail in the CSYC Youth Regatta (www.CSYC.org) in the summer, and eventually learn to sail bigger keelboats (www.victoriasailingschool.com).