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Before motor power, people traveled by foot, by horse or by boat. Traveling across water was easiest when the wind was harnessed to sail the boat along.

Today, recreational sailors practice their yachting skills on inland lakes, large rivers and coastal ocean waters around the world.

It is easiest to learn sailing with smaller, single-sail vessels. Then you can move on to the larger vessels with two or more sails. With the proper equipment, sailing can be enjoyed in the chilly air and waters of early spring and late autumn as well as the height of summer.

Anywhere you see a marina, you'll see tall masts stabbing the skyline alongside power boats. Or you may see entire marinas dedicated to recreational sailors and yachting. In North America, yachting clubs, marinas and sailing schools number in the thousands.

State, regional (such as the Pacific Yachting Association) and national organizations abound. Active member lists range from 500 to over 40,000.

"ESPN is doing a great job covering sailing events. The newer technology of on-board cameras helps. But for the most part, people get into this sport for the love of it," says Steffi Schiffer. She is a member of the Gulfstream Sailing Club.

Sailing has long been a male-dominated sport, but this trend is changing. "Thankfully, there is more acceptance of women, especially in the competitive circle, than there used to be," says Jennifer Brown. She is also a member of the Gulfstream Sailing Club.

"It's a sport where men and women can compete equally because the wind and waves know no gender, only strength," says Mary Schroeder, member of yacht club.

Sailing has many advantages. Experienced sailors credit sailing for developing their confidence. They say it has given them an ability to think and act quickly, a strong sense of determination and problem-solving skills. They also say it has taught them true teamwork skills.

"Sailing helped me learn what I can achieve at a high level," says Dave Thomas. He is a sailing enthusiast. "It has also enabled me to understand how I can be part of a team and how I can trust others in important situations."

Others encourage people to try sailing because it is relaxing and eases tension. But it can be challenging, both physically and mentally. "Sailing teaches teamwork and invites camaraderie," says Elizabeth Bloch of Naples, Florida. "It's a challenge personally, physically, and provides an opportunity to push yourself...beyond limits."

"Kids who learn to sail also learn about goal setting, perseverance, self-esteem and riding the ups and downs," says Tine Moberg-Parker. She is the training director and head coach at a yacht club.

Yachting offers competitions in the forms of regattas and other races. "I would encourage people to race if they want to develop very good sailing skills and if they are interested in an 'open' sport with many variables," says Thomas.

Brian Todd is a sailing coach. "Competition is the best way recreational sailors have to improve their skills and understanding of sailing, as long as they keep the competition in perspective and have fun with it," he says. "It is also good for sailing, as people are usually more aware of their equipment and will tend to upgrade and care for their boats more."

"I love racing because it teaches you discipline and also stretches you to think tactically and analytically," says Peter Wood, a boating safety consultant.

There are hundreds of designs of sailboats, but they all fall into three racing classes -- one-design, handicap and rating. The handicap and rating classes were designed to allow traditional wood hull, custom-designed boats to compete at even levels. Today, handicap classes allow time advantages for boats of many different types to race with equal footing -- much like golfers or bowlers are assigned handicaps in scoring.

Rating classes use formulas, taking into account rigging, boat length, sail type and size, to rate each boat equally. The most popular racing class is one-design, in which every boat is of the same type. One-design boats are mass-produced so each boat has exactly equal measurement, much the way cars are assembled.

Sails or rigging used on racing boats are lighter than recreational cruising sails. Canvas or sailing cloth was traditionally used for recreational boating. Seams for recreational boating are reinforced.

"I do not believe competitive sailing is for everybody. But due to the huge number of other opportunities in sailing, there is room for racers and non-racers," says Moberg-Parker.

Sailing requires manual dexterity. You have to tie knots and rig up sails. You also need to develop awareness of surroundings and observe wind patterns. You must learn proper seamanship, including etiquette on the water.

Physically disabled people are enjoying the sport in growing numbers. Many associations have Web pages devoted to disabled sailing.

Wood's most moving experience has been coaching physically disabled people who have taken up sailing. "Many of them have become quadriplegic doing activities I really enjoy -- skiing, driving sports cars," he says. "Most have come to terms with their accidents and see a beauty in sailing that I sometimes take for granted."

The sailors are lowered into the boats using hoists. "It is quite moving to see 30 disabled sailors all having a great time racing each other."

You need the basic essentials: a good personal flotation device (PFD) or life jacket, loose-fitting comfortable shorts or slacks, a comfortable shirt, and shoes with good-gripping soles for staying put on slippery decks.

Beginners often borrow or rent equipment at sailing schools or clubs. Purchasing a boat is another matter. Boats are comparable to cars, with a wide range of sizes, styles and luxury extras. A new sailboat design, manufactured by Escape Sail, is made out of molded plastic. The most popular size, 12.5 feet, costs around $800 new. Plus, you still need to buy sails and all the extras.

Beginners would be better off checking local classified ads for used sailboats.

"Yachting can be done very cheaply as a hobby," says Schiffer. "All you have to do is find a skipper who needs crew for a race or competition. Volunteer, and then it costs nothing to go. Sometimes you get free lunch!"

Whether you follow Schiffer's advice and volunteer or borrow your way to sailing experience, what would you do with the experience? Career opportunities exist in sail-making, boat design and building, sales, equipment maintenance and repair, and even entry into the coast guard.

Turning a love for yachting into a career is most often done through coaching or teaching sailing. Involvement with local yacht and sailing clubs is another possibility.

"I believe there is more future in education within sailing in the form of safety to all who come close to the water. With an increased focus on car and driving safety, it is a matter of time before sailing and on-water safety will be as important," says Moberg-Parker.

Wood agrees. "I think a major change will occur in the job opportunities available to sailors once the government requires everyone to have an operator's permit in order to operate a boat. This is starting to occur in Canada, and the U.S. is following. Although initially this is only a classroom theory course, eventually it will evolve into on-water training and testing. When this happens, it will require thousands of professionally trained instructors to train and test future sailboat operators."

"I see potential growth at the community level as sailing is integrated into community recreation programs or school phys. ed. activities," says Thomas.

Getting Started

To get started in yachting, first you'll need to learn to sail. If you already know how to sail, check with local yacht clubs or school sailing clubs and ask how you can get involved in competitions. If you know someone who sails in yachting competitions, ask if you can crew with them or whether they will help you to become involved.

If you don't know how to sail, look in the Yellow Pages of your local phone directory for sailing schools. Also, check with local community colleges or universities. Many institutions near lakes or coastlines offer sailing as a course.

Many sailors were introduced to the activity through family or a friend who sailed. Bloch was introduced to sailing at the YMCA Camp Seaside in Milford, Connecticut. "Once I experienced sailing, it became a lifelong passion," she says.

Today, Bloch is a licensed captain. She owns a 43-foot Beneteau, which she charters. Also, she is one of the founders of the Naples Community Sailing Center. The center teaches children and adults to sail and runs sailing competitions.

Wood was a power boater and recreational fisherman before getting hooked on sailing. "I was interested in sailing, but didn't have an opportunity to try it until a friend took me sailing on his brother's boat. I then joined my university sailing club, where I learned to sail," he says.

Once you become involved, the opportunities are endless. You can go on sailing excursions, cruise locally or become involved in competitions by volunteering on larger vessels. Many companies charter cruises on schooners on which the vacationers serve as crew.


American Sailing Association
13922 Marquesas Way
Marina del Rey , CA   90292

Inland Lake Yachting Association
W4680 Tory's Trail
P.O. Box 311
Fontana , WI   53125

United States Sailing Association
P.O. Box 1260
15 Maritime Dr.
Portsmouth , RI   02871-0907


Outside Online


Yachting and Boating World


International Sailing Federation
Information about races, upcoming regattas, news in the sailing world and more

An Internet sailing community

U.S. Coast Guard Office of Boating Safety
News and information on boating and sailing in U.S. waters

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