Sailing For Beginners – Getting Started Living the Dream

Sailing for beginners the first time can be exciting and a little foreboding at the same time. If you are a first, time sailor and do not know about the sailboat you should familiarizes your self and study up on the subject. You do not want to get into trouble and not know how to handle the situation.


First up: Who invented the sail?

It’s said that the Mesopotamians invented the sail in around 3000BC! Sails were made from papyrus, a plant that grows throughout the Nile, Tigris, and Euphrates river valleys. They provided a much faster form of transportation and enabled the Mesopotamians to trade with many more countries previously out of reach.

So whether you’re planning on any trading, a learning/working holiday, or just a relaxing break, here’s some top hints and tips to get you going on your journey into the world of boats, yachts and sailing…


Choosing a boat

There are a lot of choices, and several things you need to consider. There are several different kinds of sailboats to choose from. There are wet and dry beginner sailboats. There are also more advanced kinds such as catamaran sailboats, and there are cabin sailboats as well.

On Wet Beginner Sailboats, you can expect to get wet most of the time. You sit on the deck or on the floor. These boats are easier to manage so they are good for beginners. On Dry Beginner Sailboats, you will stay dry most of the time (in good weather). You sit on a seat or on the gunwhale. These boats make you feel relatively safe so they are good for beginners too. On Cabin Sailboats, you definitely stay dry. They can have a small cuddy for storage or a full size cabin for staying overnight in.

It is best for beginners to have a small simple boat. They require a lot less responsibility than bigger boats, and can be just as much fun. It is easier to learn the basics when there are fewer lines and sails. Small boats also have the advantage of being more responsive in light winds. Once you have learned the basics on small boats, you can apply the skills you’ve acquired to any size of boat.

You will want to begin on a boat that is rigged with one mast and one sail, since that will make it easier to focus on learning the fundamentals of sailing. A number of small boats are designed to perform well with just one sail.

You will also want a conventional single-hulled boat. Multihulled boats, such as catamarans and trimarans can be a bit too much for learners as they are more high performance boats. You will want to get a boat with a fiberglass hull. A fiberglass hull requires less maintenance than a wooden hull, and it is lightweight and fairly easy to repair.

You will want to buy a boat that is at least 12′ for two adults, or at least 10′ for two children. Make sure your boat is big enough for two people.

You will want a boat with a centerboard or daggerboard keel. Centerboard or daggerboard designed boats allow you to sail in shallow water. When you are sailing with the wind behind you, these keels can be pulled up for better performance. Leeboard keels will do the same thing, but they are more fussy because you have to change them with each tack

Sailing can be a lot of fun, when you have chosen the right boat for you. When you are beginning it is best to get a boat that is small (but big enough for two people) and simple (with one mast and one sail and a fiberglass hull) so that you can concentrate on learning the fundamentals of sailing. A small boat like this is more responsive in light winds. You will want a boat with a centerboard or daggerboard keel because they are less fussy than leeboard keels. Find the right boat and you will have many enjoyable sailing adventures.


What to wear

Always go prepared even if you’re going to a hot country. Take something cool, something warm and something waterproof. Try not to wear baggy clothing that could get caught in moving parts and take some shoes that have non-marking soles such as deck shoes or Crocs.


Choosing a lifejacket

If you’re going on a crewed holiday then the crew will help you fit the lifeackets that are provided but if you’re walking pontoons, hoping for a place on a local race boat, here’s how to choose a lifejacket that’s suitable for racing and cruising. Choose an automatic, 150Newton lifejacket suitable for your weight and chest size. Unless you’re particulalry large or small, the standard 150Newton lifejackets will fit. These are non-restrctive, light weight and, if you happen to end up in the drink, will inflate automatically and bring you to the surface with lights flashing!


How to board the boat

When the yacht is ‘alongside’, or next to a pontoon, the easiest way to get on is hold the ‘stays’ (metal wires holding up the mast) and climb over the guard rails. If the boat is ‘stern to’ with it’s back end to the pontoon, just jump on or use the ‘passarelle’ or gangplank.


Where’s the wind?

Most boats will have a wind indicator at the top of the mast in the form of an arrow. Where ever the arrow points to is where the wind is coming from. Failing that, slowly turn your face until you can feel the wind on both your cheeks and hear it in both your ears. Look straight ahead and that’s a general idea of where the wind is coming from.


How to pull a rope

This may seem an obvious one but ropes on boats can get pretty heavy and loaded pretty quickly. Keep your fingers well away from moving parts and never let the rope slide through your hands, always feed it out, hand over hand. If you’re holding a rope and it gets too heavy, just let go. You won’t do any damage but there might be a lot of noise if it’s windy and the sails start flapping!


How to sail (raising the mainsail)

Assuming the sailboat is on the water in preparation for sailing. Here’s the checklist.

First, lock the tiller in position by a piece of rope that is called the “tiller rope” that is a sailing term for a piece of rope tied between two cleats on the each side of the stern of my sailing boat.

Here’s how you put the tiller rope together. Cut a length of rope just long enough to allow it to wrap it once around the tiller handle and reach both port and starboard stern cleats. Once the length of rope is in place, tight it by pulling the tiller rope by simply pulling or pushing it along the tiller handle until taut. Now the tiller rope will hold the rudder in any position you choose.

Next, check to see that the outboard is in neutral before starting it and allow it to warm up. A 4hp Mariner outboard can be a little cold blooded at times and will stall if not properly warmed up. You don’t want it to stall when you are leaving the dock as this could cause damage to the boat if you are not able to clear it properly. You then untie the sailboat from the dock and jump aboard and with the outboard in reverse and back away from the dock enough to clear it. Selecting the forward gear on the motor, head out away from shore so that you can raise the mainsail without worrying about running aground or hitting another boat.

Then depending on the current wind direction, nose the bow into the wind, stop the outboard, and lock the tiller in a neutral position to keep the sailboat pointed into the wind using the tiller rope. Also make sure the outboard now is in neutral, just in case you need to start it up again to reposition the sailboat.

Secondly, having another person with you is even easier, because one person can keep the sailboat heading into the wind by navigating with the kicker under power, while the other crew member can focus on rigging up the mainsail.

Next, attach the head of the mainsail to the halyard or the sailing term for mast rope with a shackle secured to the end of it. Feed the mainsail’s boltrope into the groove of the mast. The boltrope is the sailing term for the attaching point located on the luff edge of the sail. Then carefully feed the sail while at the same time raising the sail pulling in a downward motion with the halyard while making sure that the sail doesn’t get caught in either one of the backstays until it’s hosted to the top of the mast.

Thirdly, keep in mind this all sounds easy enough, but if the wind is really blowing, it’s not all that simple. Some people like to sail with winds of at least 10mph if possible, it can be difficult at times to raise the sail single-handed. However with a little practice, you will be able to get the hang of it.

Next, tie the halyard onto the mast cleat. Now you are ready to attach the foot of the mainsail to the boom. First, take the foot section of the mainsail’s boltrope and feed it into the boom until it’s about half way in the boom. Then take the line or rope attached to the clew a sailing term for the longest part of the mainsail that faces towards the stern of the boat. Next, pull the rest of the sail completely through the boom and tie the line to the boom cleat. Next, secure the tack to the front of the boom with a clevis pin.

Finally, attach the end of the boom using a shackle to a set of blocks located at the stern of the boat. This will allow you to angle the boom from the centerline of the sailing vessel to either port or starboard side. Some sailboats have a track system as well that is more sophisticated, but for now you will stick to the block set up. And there you go, the mainsail is ready for sailing.


What NOT to do

Never jump into the sea from a moving boat. The average speed of a 40 foot long yacht is 7 mph. The average speed of an amateur swimmer is 0.5mph! That’s a long chase that you’re not going to win! Wait for the anchor to go down in a safe spot before diving in, no matter how tempting it looks!


Some useful terminology:

  • Port – left
  • Starboardright
  • Stern/Aft – back
  • Bow – front
  • Sheets/halyards – ropes

And finally, if you’re really keen, Get Qualified.

Much of the fun of sailing lies in the many hours spent practicing on the open ocean, learning of its ways and mastering its basic principles. Equip yourself with all the knowledge you can and the right mental attitude, and the realization of the dream will be within your grasp before you know it.

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