Hardest Part Of Learning To Sail

May 17, 2004
2,037
Other Catalina 30 Tucson, AZ
Sadly, the sailing season is over now for many of the lister's on this forum. The forum will now go into the doldrums and wake up in the spring. As a kid growing up on Narragansett Bay (RI), I really hated the fall season -- the winter was no joy either!! When fall arrived I had to go back to school but more importantly my summer social activities at Edgewood yacht club (club dances, racing Beetle Cat boats and just sailing around the Bay) ended, In the years I grew up we had to invent our activities. We had all day to do it but we had to be home when the street lights went on. A lot of lister's maybe don't know what I'm talking about with the street lights but some will. Anyway, enough of nostalgia and on to the subject at hand.

This forum is dedicated to beginner sailors and that group is greatfull to the experienced sailors like jackdaw, Stan, Joe from San Diego, Scott T and others who graciously volunteer their knowledge that helps beginners through the learning process. As these new sailors develop they pass on their knowledge and help others. It's a great process.

So, what's the hardest thing for a beginner sailor to learn and comprehend. Here's a few - tacking, what's lift/drag, what's pinching, learning to dock, learning all the names of the parts of the boat and it's sails and learning how to get the boat back to the harbor. The last one is one of my favorites -- after about 1 hour out of Newport Beach, Ca on my first sail on a charter boat my daughter told me I looked preoccupied and asked what I was thinking about. I was ashamed to tell her I was trying to figure out how to turn the boat around!!

The hardest part of sailing for me was learning sail trim control. I didn't know the function of each control for the main & jib and had no idea what adjustment to make for the various wind conditions and points of sail. I had no idea of the trim sequence and ended up with the sails working against each other most of the time. I called it sailing because the boat moved through the water but I wasn't satisfied with my performance. Eventually, I fingered it out THE SAIL TRIM CHART told me WHAT to do but I needed the WHY which turned out to be THE SAIL TRIM USERS GUIDE. The WHY of sail trim is everything otherwise a sailor is just guessing at the adjustment. My learning process was one I hate to see new sailors go through. Sadly learning sail trim turns off some new sailors and they give up the sport. I read in another forum topic that it can be a pain dispensing over & over basic sail trim to newbies but they really appreciate the effort.

Anyway, do any of you care to share your hardest part of learning to sail and how you overcame it?



.
 
Oct 19, 2017
7,019
O'Day 19 Littleton, NH
Great thread, Don.
For me, it is nomenclature. I believe that 50% to 75% of learning any new discipline oa learning the language. Labels, names and definitions inform on function and process. Learning terms like luff and leach, helm's a lee, what a sheet is, etc., give big clues as to how things work and what to do.

Time is the other hard part.

-Will (Dragonfly)
 
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Apr 16, 2017
841
Federation NCC-1701 Riverside
Without a doubt the hardest part of sailing is learning to sail and sailing at the same time.

Sailing my boat is a 100% all in activity. Theres no pause button to scroll through the web or review a chart. No rewind to relive the interesting experiences. One hand on the rudder, the other on the main, my head on a swivel, my personality changes to be nicer and polite to jib crew. The intensity is what clears and resets my thoughts. I find it hard to even take pictures.

At home i can research and learn, but am not in a boat to apply. I have to create checklists of 2-3 core topics to study and try to test and sample while out.
 
Jan 8, 2015
356
MacGregor 26S, Goman Express 30 Kerr Reservoir
The hardest part for we was learning how to tell ahaed of time when the weather conditons were going to be suitable for my level of experience. With my exhuberence driving my desire, I would frequently find myself out in conditions above my ability to control the boat to my wifes liking. Feeling comfortable while departing from a protected marina, I should have heeded the cautionary "Allen, be careeful out there" from the old timers on the docks meaning that I should have taken another look at what the lake conditions actually were.
 
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Jan 1, 2006
6,165
Slickcraft 26 Greenport, NY
I think for me, since I started sailing in centerboard boats, the hardest part was getting used to the unsteadiness of sailboats. Since my weight had a large influence on the trim of the boat, and I needed to leave the helm to move around to hoist or douse sails, I had several incidents of careening around. And it was a bit dangerous because an overboard situation could easily happened. But I got through that and went on to have many adventures on that Bandit 15.
 
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Jan 5, 2017
2,172
Beneteau First 38 Lyall Harbour Saturna Island
Since my weight had a large influence on the trim of the boat,
I started sailing in Sabots at age 9. A couple of years ago my brothers and I had a chance to race a couple of Sabots in Ladysmith Harbour. They are much tippier than I remember ( or I've put on a couple of pounds over the years)
 
Sep 26, 2008
342
Hunter 340 Wickford, RI
My first sailing lesson was at the Edgewood Yacht Club. The first one, before it burned to the waterline a few years back. A real sad day for all.
I had an 18 year old teaching me and never had anyone over 25 ever give me any sailing lessons. One thing they all had in common was "no fear" and it was perfect for learning to sail.
Before the lesson, we did all the blackboard work and was given the lesson plan.
I do remember, lesson 3 was going to be flipping the boat and learning right it and get back on board.
As the "first" lesson began, we started out, he handed me the tiller. Shortly after that and I do mean shortly....we were at lesson 3 !
Great times, great memories and just continuing on. That's how I became able to sail.
Thanks for bring back the memory of EYC and learning to sail.
 
Nov 8, 2010
11,385
Beneteau First 36.7 & 260 Minneapolis MN & Bayfield WI
Most adults learn to sail on a keelboat with 2-4 other people, all doing different jobs. What you loose here (and is hard to explain) is the fundamental and intense interrelationship between the actions (driver, maintrim, jibtrim, hike) that leads to great trim and sailing. So some never 'get it' and those that do it takes longer. Learning on a dinghy you don't have this problem.

Good races crews are constantly talking about this. Great ones don't have to.
 
Oct 19, 2017
7,019
O'Day 19 Littleton, NH
(and is hard to explain)
You don't seem to have any problems here. You explained it very well. There is a sense of the boat as a part of you that a crewed instructional (classroom type learning onboard) misses. Some sailors do it naturally, but can't communicate it to others. Others who do it also understand it, so they are better able to teach it.
Those who approach learning to sail from a purely academic exercise are less likely to get it. Learning that starts when trying to learn stops and you begin to just enjoying the boat.

-Will (Dragonfly)
 
Apr 16, 2017
841
Federation NCC-1701 Riverside
So some never 'get it' and those that do it takes longer.
By "it" he means acute spacetime situational awareness. Colloquially known as "The Force".

Knowing what just happened, the state and trajectory of objects nearby, the feel for what will happen in the next few moments, the plan for now, the plan for the future, and the skills and resources to take action.
 
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Oct 22, 2014
16,409
CAL 35 Cruiser moored EVERETT WA
Understanding the concept of trim I feel is best taught to the new sailor in a dinghy. A single sail, tiller, center/dagger board and sailor. The simplicity of the boat, the direct interplay of tiller, sail mainsheet adjustments and weight adjustments all provide prompt change feedback to the sailor.
The dinghy is a great teacher’s tool.
 
Nov 1, 2017
587
Catalina 25 Tall Rig Watergate Marina, Kemah, TX
For me, I always had a hard time with navigation since I've always been mathematically challenged. It took me a solid two years to not only learn, but fully grasp the concepts and traditions of navigating using the original compass, variation, charts, etc.. This skill is required to earn the rank of Ordinary in Sea Scouts, and it is a big reason a lot of younger Scouts don't advance to or past that rank within their first four years of being involved with the program.
 
Nov 1, 2017
587
Catalina 25 Tall Rig Watergate Marina, Kemah, TX
Understanding the concept of trim I feel is best taught to the new sailor in a dinghy.
That is exactly how I learned it when I first started. "You never really get to learn what a person is like unless you meet with them one-on-one...the more often you meet with them, the better you get to know them." ~ Uncle Scott; he also always told me that every boat is different, just like people.
 

TomY

Alden Forum Moderator
Jun 22, 2004
2,671
Alden 38' Challenger yawl Rockport Harbor
Anyway, do any of you care to share your hardest part of learning to sail and how you overcame it?

.
I agree with the majority of sailors that will say, the dinghy is the best tool to use to learn how to sail.

I don't think sailing is a difficult thing to learn at all, in a dinghy, especially for the very young. Starting on a large boat seems to me to be much more difficult. Some sailors don't ever 'get it', and starting in a bigger boat, may be why.

For myself, learning to sail better, patience was the hardest thing to learn along the way.

It's easy for new sailors to fall into a trap with wind speed, and stay there. 'No wind' for some sailors is a breeze of less than 5, 6 knots.

Sailing when wind is light is harder for beginners, but there in that challenge lies the fast track to becoming a better sailor, in all winds.
 
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May 25, 2012
3,877
john alden caravelle 42 sturgeon bay, wis
i agree with tom, there is nothing hard about learning to sail. like chess, one can learn the basics in an afternoon. then spend a lifetime trying to get a little better than the next guy. :)
 
May 20, 2016
2,995
Catalina 36 MK1 94 Everett, WA
The hardest part when fist sailing is finding an isolated spot so you don’t get laughed at and made fun of when you get back. (early teens)
 
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Oct 19, 2017
7,019
O'Day 19 Littleton, NH
The hardest part when fist sailing is finding an isolated spot so you don’t get laughed at and made fun of when you get back. (early teens)
Unless you are in a big sailing community, like coastal Maine, or learning at a yacht club where there are plenty of other sailors around, getting out on a sailboat is impressive enough to landlubbers. They won't even know anything is wrong. ;)

Otherwise... what Less said.

-Will (Dragonfly)
 
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