Quality of Boats in Sailing Schools
Not all sailboats are created equal, but no one boat is so outstanding that you'll learn significantly more on it than on another. The quality of a school's boats should rarely influence your decision on schools. That said, learning on very large boats can detract from your experience.
Boats vary in length, speed, features, quality of construction, purpose, and a number of other dimensions. The only two aspects that are particularly relevant to a sailing class are comfort and maneuverability. You want to make sure that the boat you'll be sailing for Basic Keelboat is both comfortable enough to accommodate you for a few hours at a time and responsive enough to give you good feedback when you're steering. Comfort tends to correlate with the design of the boat, while maneuverability depends on total length.
Smaller Sailboats are Better for Learning
As a general rule, smaller boats are more responsive to steering and sail changes. As a result, most schools will start students on a boat between 20 and 27 feet long. The advantage of these smaller vessels, in comparison to other schools' 30-34-foot boats, is that they give more feedback to the crew. Steering will feel more responsive and sail position will have a more noticeable effect on boat speed. Having such feedback early on in a sailor's career will teach better habits and a greater degree of precision. Learning on a larger boat can yield sloppy sailors simply because precision isn't rewarded as well with a large sailboat.
Examples of Good Instructional Boats
Many boat manufacturers make great boats to learn on. Keep an eye out for any of these models when you're shopping around for sailing schools--they are particularly well suited to learning.
- Colgate 26 -- A great 26-foot sailboat that has an extra-long cockpit area to accommodate a large number of students. The Colgate is a no-frills, sporty boat that is quite responsive and easy to maneuver. It was designed to feel safe and stable for beginners, yet have the potential to compete in a racing environment.
- J/24 -- Another great boat for instruction and day sailing, the J/24 is a classic of the sailing world. The boat's fundamental design has not changed since it was introduced in the 1970's, although it has undergone countless technological improvements. The modern J/24 is still a formidable racing boat, but provides the stability and comfort needed for beginning sailors
- Sonar 23' -- The Sonar also has an extended cockpit that can fit five students with considerable comfort considering the boat's small size. Reported to be faster than the J/24, the Sonar should yield a consistently thrilling experience on the water for novice sailors. This boat is, however, smaller and lighter than the other two and therefore will not be quite as stable in rough conditions.
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