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Learning the Joy of Sailing

Nov 25, 2007
What does it take to sail? The main ingredients are a sailboat, a mild breeze on a suitable body of water, and a little desire. Sailing is by no means difficult, and if you can tell which way the wind is blowing, you can learn the fundamentals in a short time.

The quickest and easiest method of learning to sail is to take a formal course. Such courses in sailing are developing in various places all over the United States and Canada. Even public funds are being allocated for this purpose in many cities and communities. The following organizations may be able to advise you of any local classes in sailing: YMCA or YWCA, Coast Guard Auxiliary, local Power Squadron, Chamber of Commerce, local marine dealers, and local yacht or boat clubs. The cost of such courses varies from nothing to several dollars an hour.

Although certainly desirable, formal sailing courses are not necessary. Many people prevail upon a friend or neighbor who has a sailboat and trade their services at spring fitting-out time for instructions in sailing.

While it's not the fastest or best way, the most lasting method of learning to sail is by the seat of your pants in a boat, developing your sensibilities by trial and error. But before you shove off on your first sail, you should know the basic theory of what makes a sailboat go and the various points of sailing in relation to course and wind direction.

What Makes A Sailboat Go?

It may sound easy to explain why a sailboat goes. It is blown by the wind, just as your hat goes sailing down the street on a windy day. But the person who is to learn the art of sailing can't stop there. He must have a little idea of the theory so that he'll be better able to understand why he must handle sails and rudder in certain ways to obtain the desired results.

If we were simply to accept the analogy of the hat, we would not be able to account for the fact that a boat can sail in a great many directions other than the one toward which the wind is blowing. Actually, a sailboat can go in any direction except directly into the wind. In such a case, we must tack the boat or angle it into the wind.

When the boom is positioned directly above where the stern and the side meet, and the wind is coming about 45 degrees either side of the bow, you're in a close-hauled (or beating, or pointing, or tacking) position. When the boom is let out a little farther and the wind comes more directly at right angles, you are reaching; and as the wind comes across the side closer to the stern, you're on a broad reach.

Then when the wind comes over your stern, and your boom is almost at right angles to the boat, out on either side, you are running or sailing downwind. As you can see, the points or positions of sailing are governed by wind direction and the trim of the sail (location of the boom).

The closer the boat has to sail to the wind the closer the boom is brought to the centerline of the craft. The more the course of the boat approaches a run dead before the wind, the farther the boom is eased off away from the centerline.

Many people believe that the pushing effect of the wind on the sail makes a boat go, and they're partly correct. There is, however, another force at work; it's the same force that provides the lift for an airplane wing. By this we mean that the force of the air striking the windward side of a sail is but a small fraction of the total force; like a wing, most of the force is developed by the leeward (away from the wind) side the upper side in the case of a wing. In other words, some of the wind engages the sail and exerts a pushing force upon it.

There is more to learn abut sailing a boat, but this is a good start.
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