How To

Sailing 101: Learning the Basics

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When learning to sail, it is best to take an expert-led class in calm, uncrowded waters.

One of most challenging aspects of sailing is the vocabulary, so learning the language before you head out is a must. This is a great sport for either a group of people or an individual looking for solitude on the water, and there are a variety of ways you can learn if you are new to sailing. What type of boat you will be working with, the water you will be traveling, and the length of your trip will help determine which course of instruction you should take. While valuable online resources are available, it is best to take a hands-on sailing class with a knowledgeable instructor before attempting the sport on your own.

When choosing a sailing destination, it is preferable to find one characterized by calm waters that is not too crowded. In addition to suitable waters, deciding on a smaller boat is going to assist is the learning process because they are easier to maneuver. If this boat is rigged with only one sail, that will also be helpful, as there will be less multitasking that is necessary. Even if you are on calm waters in a small boat, weather has the ability to alter every situation. Make sure you check the forecast and are prepared for all conditions. If there is the chance of rain or a storm, pick another day for your lesson.

Controlling the sail will come with practice, but generally it’s best to keep the sail flat when dealing with either very low or very strong winds, and a fuller sail in normal wind conditions. Ensuring that you avoid coming into contact with the boom is also imperative, as it has the ability to cause injuries or knock someone overboard. The boom is the horizontal pole that runs along the bottom of the rigged sail and helps control the sail’s angle. If you are thrown overboard or the boat capsizes, these are unplanned events that can cause much frustration and additional work. However, practicing what you must do in one of these situations beforehand can better prepare you for when it happens on open water. Capsizing your boat just for practice can seem like quite an inconvenience, but the skills it will provide later on are helpful.

As far as the vocabulary goes, this is one of the most necessary steps in making sure you can follow direction easily from an instructor while on the water. In the simplest directional terms, the bow is the name for the front of the boat, with the stern at the back, port on the left side, and starboard on the right. The aft can also refer to the back of the boat, which is at or near the stern.

In understanding the direction of the wind, leeward refers to the opposite direction the wind is blowing and windward refers to the current direction. The rudder is used to steer and is located on the underside of the boat, typically made of wood, fiberglass, or metal. The tacking and jibbing are opposite from one another, both of which are maneuvers that change what side of the boat the wind will hit. The extensive terminology will come over time, but these should provide enough of the basics to get you started. Do not assume that everything will be absorbed on the first day and make sure to plan several days of instructor-led sailing sessions before departing by yourself. Always make sure to tell someone when you’re sailing, when to expect you back, and wear a life jacket.

Image from Terry Lettenmaier on the Wikimedia Commons

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