Choosing a sailboat

How to find the right sailboat for you

By David HarrisDavid Harris

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What does that black pulley on the blue rope do?

Some boats are easier to sail than others. If you aspire to go beyond the basics, however, be careful not to limit your growth potential by choosing an oversimplified craft. Look for a relatively uncomplicated boat that can be retrofit with performance-oriented upgrades, or one that can be simplified. The Hobie 16, for example, is offered with an optional furling jib for recreational use, which makes the boat easier to sail. The Laser sail comes in three sizes. “You can scale the size of the sail to the size of the sailor,” Fogh explains. Both the Flying Scot and CL 16 can be equipped with a spinnaker, which provides exhilarating performance when sailing downwind and plenty of action to keep the crew busy. Generally, as performance increases, so does the level of finesse and skill required. Cottagers who already have sailing experience may be happier with a more complex boat — such as the Vago or CL 16 — from the get-go.

Maybe you have visions of yourself in a fresh breeze, leading the fleet across the waves to the finish line. Racing can be a whole lot more fun if you compete “boat for boat” against other similar designs. Take a close look at the popular sailboats on your lake, especially if there is already organized racing in your area. Try to get out sailing with an owner before buying. Most cottage sailing regattas are casually organized, and regulars likely will be pleased to take you out in the hope of attracting another racer to their fold. (Crewing is also a good way for novices to gain some racing experience.)

Hey Dad, can we go sailing now?

Sailboat design has changed through the decades in response to how people use their boats. Sixty or 70 years ago, for example, sailing craft served well as basic transportation and fishing vessels. Ask some of the old-timers on Georgian Bay and they’ll likely reminisce about the big, stable Mackinaws and Grew dinghies. And you can’t talk sailing in the Thousand Islands without mentioning the St. Lawrence Sailing Skiff, which originated as a fishing guide’s workboat in the 1860s. Cottagers typically had a large power launch for transporting people and supplies to their islands, and sailboats, rowboats, and canoes for day-to-day getting around.

These days, sailboats are primarily for recreation, but there are still significant differences in the way they can be used. The one-man Olympic-class Laser, for example, is a speedy little performance-oriented singlehander (also fun for two coordinated people with good balance), but it will never be a stable family boat like the venerable Flying Scot, which is roomy, comfortable, and — bonus — pretty quick, too.

Kids who want to learn to sail will find the pint-sized Optimist well suited to their size and strength. Its stable, pram-shaped hull is less than 8 feet long. If you want your kids to learn confidence and control in a sailboat early in the game, this is a good choice, and is an ideal singlehander for kids younger than 15 who want to get into racing.

The bottom line? Consider your abilities and aspirations (and those of other people at your cottage who will sail the boat) and balance those with the practical limitations of your waterfront and your lake. Then, get ready to be blown away.

This article was originally published on February 5, 2007


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