learning to sail: an introduction to dinghy sailing

The appeal of sailing is its versatility. Here’s a round up of its benefits and why dinghy sailing is the best way to learn.

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Learning To Sail: An Introduction To Dinghy Sailing

learning to sail: an introduction to dinghy sailing

Decathlon

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Why do people go sailing? The most apparent answer is the direct interaction it gives you with wind and water without the need of a boat engine’s noise and weight.

Aside from the freedom and independence of sailing, its versatility has worldwide appeal. Sailing can create peaceful experiences as much as it can high-powered adrenaline ones, from embarking on a life-changing sailing tour, trying the sport for the very first time, to relaxing on a family holiday in hot climes or cruising round the harbour with friends. Additionally, the sport can be accessed from many different corners of the world, including the warm waters of the Caribbean, the mountainous Lake District of the UK, and the vast expanses of the Atlantic Ocean. Being in direct contact with natural elements, as well as good company, sums up the appeal that keeps keen enthusiasts sailing year on year. If you want to start learning the sport, the best place to start is dinghy sailing.

Dinghy sailing 101

Dinghies are small boats used for sailing and are ideal for beginners as they are small, steady but responsive on the water. They’re also easily manageable and easy to rig.

What types of dinghies are there?

The safest and most accessible waters for dinghy sailing are lakes, reservoirs and other inland waters. In addition, there are plenty of coastal options with clubs and training centres. The basic principles of sailing are the same throughout all boats, but techniques in maximising each boat’s potential differ; the main difference being the size and type of craft used for family or single sailors. There’s a host of dinghy sailing boats available, but the main types fall under five categories:

1. Training Boats

Built for stability and easy use.

Examples: Mirrors, Picos, Toppers, GP14s, Optimist

2. Single Handers

Can be launched and sailed by one person.

Examples: Topper, Laser, RS aero, Solo, International Finn.

3. Double Handers

Requires two people to launch and sail, and offers the option of 2 or even 3 sails. Depending on how experienced the sailor is, some models can be sailed alone.

Examples: GP14s, Wayfarers, RS200, enterprise, laser vago, firefly

4. Dinghy Cruisers

Family orientated, able to seat 3, 4 or 5 people comfortably.

Examples: Wayfarers, GP14s

5. Multi-Hull Dinghies

Boats with more than one hull.

Example: Hobie Cat

If I wanted to learn, where do I start?

A good place to start would be your nearest approved sailing centre such as a yacht club or if you’re in the UK, a RYA (Royal Yachting Association) centre, to enquire about dinghy sailing lessons. Many yacht clubs often hold open days that are a fun and exciting way to test drive sailing for yourself and enquire about lessons. Many centres will be contactable via their online website.

What would a typical sailing lesson involve?

The general structure would resemble something like this:

1. You will have a quick introduction on land, teaching you the basics of the boat, its different parts and their names (essentially the hull, bow, mast, boom, sails, ropes, centreboard and tiller), the basic concept of wind power and the effect on the sails, how to rig the boat, and the safety aspects.

2. You will then head out on the water! Depending on the group, this could be on a single or double hander, or dinghy cruiser. Dinghy cruisers are bigger so can fit several people comfortably to accommodate an instructor or group wishing to learn together, whereas Toppers & Picos are smaller, more nimble and only fit one or two people.

3. Here, the instructor would show you the basic principles of sailing for you to observe then have a go yourself. Basics include sailing upwind, beam reach, broad reach, running with the wind, tacking and gybing, coming into shore safely, and learning general sailing etiquette such as who gives way to who on the water.

4. Depending on ability, the next progression would usually be on the slightly more advanced dinghies such as Lasers or the RS range, which are generally faster due to its streamlined hull combined with the specific rigging set-up, mast height and the size and shape of the sails.

5. Progression from here can involve trying different boats, faster & more technical boats, those with spinnakers and trapezes, multi hulls… or back to those you’ve already tried and liked before! Once the basics are learnt, sailing is hugely subjective so make sure the boat you choose utilises your sailing ability and preference.

So why do people go sailing?

Once you’ve learned the ropes and gained some experience, the world really is your oyster. Sailing can be done nearly anywhere in the world with nearby water, and when you master the skills, it keeps your core muscles, reflexes and balance all in check.

Sailing is hugely versatile, and can be tailored to many ages simply by choosing the right sailboat and water conditions that suit the ability and preference. Whatever floats your boat: relaxing on a yacht hopping from island to island with friends, pushing yourself in a race as part of a team, or simply pottering around the harbour with good wine and good company, you’ll find your sailing sweet spot in no time. The indisputable appeal to why people go sailing, is its consideration as a refuge; a place where people can switch off from the weights of day-to-day life and be at one with the elements… so give it a try.

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