Learning to Sail on a Sunfish By James Greene
read somewhere that learning to sail on a Sunfish is a great idea. You cover the basics, the boat is a blast to sail and you learn quickly because you often go swimming when you make a mistake. In other words, you get instant feedback. I did some searching online and found a Sunfish class for beginners offered by the Halifax Sailing Association (HSA) in Daytona Beach. It was scheduled for April 2018 and included four days of instruction at a great price, so I didn’t hesitate to sign up right away. Up to that point, my sailing experience consisted of reading lots of sailing topics online and daydreaming my way through countless sailboat classified ads. Thanks to the course however, I would be leaving the comfort of my couch and doing something on the water. This was a big step for me, the first in what I hoped would be a long journey of sailing. As we started the first day of the course, I was glad that I did some prep work on sailing terminology. I nodded confidently as we discussed lines and sheets. I nodded a little less confident-
ly however as we talked about a tack being a part of the sail, turning the bow through the wind, and the side of the boat the wind is coming from. Later that day during a rigging exercise, I even confused the mainsheet with the halyard a couple times. My head was spinning with all the new sailing lingo, but nevertheless, I was having a great time. The most important thing we learned the first day was capsizing. Not so much how to capsize, that comes naturally on a Sunfish in 10- to 15-knot winds, but how to recover when you do. If you’re taking a regular keelboat class, hopefully you won’t capsize, but if you’re learning to sail on a Sunfish, you will likely capsize early and often. After you get the hang of it, you can even capsize gracefully. Once the boat has decided to dump you overboard, just go with the flow and take a dip. Confidently swim to the bottom side of the boat, grab the end of the daggerboard, use your body weight to bring the boat upright, and ease your way back into the cockpit. Then trim
the mainsheet, and away you go. If it’s a hot day you can even claim that you capsized on purpose to cool off. The second day was our first time in the boat sailing. We rigged our boats just off shore and tied off to a line running parallel to the beach. Our proud Sunfish boats were all smartly aligned pointing into the wind, an impressive and colorful little armada. It turned out that I was the first in line to leave the beach and that made me rather nervous. Hoping that my nervousness didn’t show too much, I jumped in my boat, caught the wind, and I was off. I was sailing for the first time in my life! When it came time to turn the boat around at the first marker, I tentatively pushed the tiller towards the sail and slowed to a stop. I was stuck in irons, the dreaded no-go zone, how frustrating. A second before, the wind was filling my sail and I felt so alive! Now that sail just flapped lifelessly, and the boom sat motionless above me as I crouched in the cockpit waitSee SUNFISH continued on page 60
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