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!