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Kiss the competition goodbye! Broaden your horizons with DK's KISS Guide to Sailing. Find out about the history of sailing and follow the journeys of early traders and explorers. discover where to sail, in which types of boat, and how to hone your skills. Develop your knowledge of the international rules and regulations. Learn about the latest nautical developments, from high-tech materials to racing techniques. Master basic sailing terms, from hulls and foils, to rigs and rudders. Understand what to do if you ...
Kiss the competition goodbye! Broaden your horizons with DK's KISS Guide to Sailing. Find out about the history of sailing and follow the journeys of early traders and explorers. discover where to sail, in which types of boat, and how to hone your skills. Develop your knowledge of the international rules and regulations. Learn about the latest nautical developments, from high-tech materials to racing techniques. Master basic sailing terms, from hulls and foils, to rigs and rudders. Understand what to do if you capsize, and learn key safety tips. The Keep It Simple Series is the new standard in how-to books! Written by leading experts, each book includes full-color photographs and illustrations throughout, making these the first and only truly accessible guides for beginners. The KISS format is designed to help readers build confidence from the start, and learn gradually and thoroughly to the very last page. Much more than introductions to various subjects, these inspiring and innovative books are the ones that readers can trust!
What is it about sailing that hooks millions of otherwise sane and rational people and causes many of the symptoms of a love affair? Why do so many of us willingly submit to the possibility of getting cold and wet, tired and seasick, or even scared on occasion? The answers are as varied as the sailors you ask, but it's only fair that I try to give you some idea of the background and addictive properties this wonderful sport before you risk permanent infection by the sailing bug.
A timeless experience
One of the most powerful attractions of sailing is its timelessness. Another is its simplicity. By learning the art of handling a boat under sail, you are continuing a practice that dates back thousands of years. The skills are essentially the same as those our ancestors used to explore the world. Yes, today's boats are faster, safer, and more comfortable than those of our predecessors, and life afloat need not be a physical hardship, but the challenge of traveling under sail and the rewards of a safe arrival are little changed and still have few equals.
An ancient skill
Our seafaring ancestors would probably be astonished at the idea of sailing solely for pleasure. For them it was simply the only way to explore, conquer, and trade with the rest of the world. For thousands of years, up until the invention of the steam engine, the use of sails was the only alternative to rowing and paddling. Now, while rowing and paddling are still essential skills and can be great fun in small doses, it's easy to see why a very enlightened (or lazy) person had the idea of using a sail. In fact, lots of people seem to have had the same idea. All over the world, different types of sailing boats evolved to meet particular local needs. Whether the requirement was to carry cargo or people along rivers, across shallow seas or rough oceans, or to carry troops to invade the neighbors, individual solutions were devised. The successful ones proved their worth at sea and the rest showed where there was room for improvement. The builders and sailors who created and manned these craft developed the skills of design, seamanship, and navigation that stretch in an unbroken line to us today.
A sport was born
In the 16th and 17th centuries, Holland was the most powerful seafaring nation in the world, with a huge fleet of sailing ships that maintained the country's trade links with Africa, India, and Southeast Asia. A particular type of small, light, and fast ship was known as a jaght, from the Dutch word jaghen, which means to pursue or chase. These ships were normally used for transportation and communication in Holland's sheltered waters but, sometimes, their wealthy owners used them for pleasure sailing. In 1660, the English king, Charles II, was given a Dutch jaght and the words yacht and yachting entered the English language. A year later, English shipbuilders had taken up the challenge of improving the Dutch design. The Pett brothers presented the Catherine to King Charles and the Anne to his brother, the Duke of York. Then, as now, boys and their new toys meant a race. In this case, a race down the River Thames from Greenwich to Gravesend and back. The King won this first recorded competition between two yachts, which was perhaps fortunate or he may have banned the sport before it began.
By the early l9th century, the practice of yachting for pleasure and competition was established among English gentlemen led by the Prince Regent, later to become George IV. From small, if royal, beginnings the idea of sailing for pleasure quickly spread overseas. Today, the International Sailing Federation has 121 member countries, each with their own national organization for the management and development of the sport.
Central to the joy of sailing is the sense of personal freedom that it creates. Each of us who travels under sail, whether over the horizon or across the local pond, experiences the severing, however briefly, of a few of the normal ties with land and society. Accompanied only by the people we choose to sail with, we can explore, relax, or pit our wits and our skill against the elements or other sailors.
Rules and regulations
Sailing for pleasure is traditionally very lightly regulated, and it is generally possible to sail with minimum, if any, certification or official interference. The requirements that do apply are usually sensible and not onerous. They seek to protect the inexperienced without diminishing the right to enjoy the freedom of the sea. Once we are afloat, we are free to sail how and where we like, with minimal restrictions. Most importantly, we are able to regain the sense of having some direct control over our destiny. We are in charge of the boat and we must rely solely on our knowledge, skills, and effort to get us safely to our destination.
If you break down you cannot just pull over to the side and wait for a tow-truck. Sure, rescue services do cover the inland and coastal waters of the US, but they may be unable to reach or find you quickly, if at all. So, with freedom comes responsibility: to your boat, your crew, and yourself. Thousands of years of sailing and modern materials and equipment have not changed the fact that you are exploring an untamed environment and must deal with wind and water on the same terms as sailors always have done.
Cruising for pleasure
Back in the middle of the 19th century, a few intrepid sailors became the pioneers of cruising in small sailing boats. At the time, yachting involved quite large yachts, many of which were used for racing with occasional pleasure voyages for friends and family. Few of the gentlemen or professional sailors of the time would have ever considered actually cruising offshore or making a passage in a small boat, but a small number of individualists started to do just that. Those early devotees discovered that cruising out of sight of land, and being solely responsible for your own welfare, brings enormous pleasure. Today, cruising yachts are immensely popular as more and more people are discovering the joys of cruising.
An antidote to modern life
Sailing is often used as an effective way of escaping for a time from the stresses of modern life. Life afloat always seems more relaxed than it does ashore (well, usually!). The world suddenly becomes simpler as the straightforward demands of your boat, the wind, and the tide replace the complex cares of ordinary life. There is little need or room afloat for posturing or arrogance, and the elements will quickly expose these traits. Sailors do well to learn some humility since wind and water, however placid and benign they may seem, are always capable of teaching a harsh lesson. Sailing is a good reminder of the power and scale of nature, and of the insignificance of many of our cares and worries.
Increasing affluence and greater access to sailing has meant that larger numbers of people than ever before are going afloat. Inevitably, a few people bring the aggressions of life ashore with them. These people have little time for learning and expect to be able to sail their boats as easily as they drive their car. They do not appreciate the subtleties of sailing or the strong traditions of a sea-faring heritage that still have relevance whenever we expose ourselves to the vagaries of elementary forces.
Choosing the cruising lifestyle
For some sailors the ultimate freedom is to be found living aboard their boats and voyaging to near or distant lands. Ever since the early cruising sailors showed that small sailing boats could make long, transoceanic passages, countless others have elected to join the wandering band of live-aboard cruisers. Most go for a few months or a year or two, and plan to return once the cruise is over. Others sell-all and sail, hoping to make cruising a permanent lifestyle. A few of these achieve their dreams and spend their time exploring under sail, perhaps staying in favorite places for several months before moving on as the fancy takes them.
However, by far the majority of would-be voyagers never set sail. They dream about the boat they will sail, the places they will visit, and the ocean passages that lie ahead. Many never even learn to sail! Some buy boats that are then left looking sad and unloved in a corner of the boatyard, waiting for their owners to have the time and money to prepare them for the voyage that never comes. The dreams sustain these armchair sailors but they never get to taste the real pleasures of cruising under sail. Do not let yourself miss out on the dream if you are drawn towards the cruising lifestyle. Remember that many successful, long-distance sailors live aboard yachts that are less than 35 ft (11 m) long.
A thirst for competition
Ever since King Charles II and his brother staged the first yacht race on the River Thames, yachtsmen have been ready to challenge each other. From its beginnings until the middle of the 20th century, yacht racing was the realm of the wealthy and well connected. The pinnacle of gentlemen's yachting was probably reached in the 1930s, when the enormous J-Class yachts that were built in the United States and Britain competed for the prestigious America's Cup, the oldest trophy in sport. But that style of racing yacht had become hugely expensive and World War II brought an end to the golden era. Although the war brought a hiatus in yacht racing, it had the side effect of encouraging the development of plywood and new techniques for laminating wood. These proved vitally important in helping the sport of sailing to emerge again in a form that was far more accessible to the general public.
Small boat racing
The development of plywood also brought about the boom in dinghy racing in the 1960s and 1970s. Dozens of new, cheap, and exciting dinghy designs appeared as boatbuilders used the material to build lighter craft. Dinghy racing provided an accessible entry to competitive sailing for a generation of new sailors with increasing leisure time and money. Then, as now, sailing clubs organized racing events to suit all abilities. Today, you can enjoy dinghy racing at any level to match your aspirations. From simple club racing to National, World, and Olympic championships there really is something for everyone who likes the thrill of competition.
Big boat racing
Yacht racing reappeared after World War 11 but in a new form. The yachts were smaller, more affordable, and were sailed by amateur crews. Many racing yachts were also designed to be good cruising yachts, and this dual-purpose nature of the yachts led to the heyday of cruiser racing in the 1970s. Since then, the design of racing yachts has diverged from the needs of cruising as designers have sought to decrease weight to achieve better performance. Today, big boat racing is alive and well with a number of dedicated racing classes of various sizes, complexity, and costs.
Something for everyone
Yachting started as an exclusive, expensive sport, accessible only to the rich or privileged. Today, most of the barriers have crumbled, and there are now so many ways of going sailing that you can take part whatever your age or ability. There are still a few stuffy yacht clubs full of "blue blazers" fondly recalling an earlier, more exclusive age, but for those of us who prefer to be less formal, there are plenty of alternatives.
Young or old
The best time to learn to sail is when you are young, but do not despair if you already count several decades! There is no reason why you cannot start late in life. Sailing is almost unique among sports in that it can be enjoyed, even in competitive racing, at virtually any age -- all that is needed is the desire.
Learning life skills
Sailing is often used in adventure-training schemes to help under-privileged or antisocial young people learn about themselves and find new ways of relating to others. Sailing aboard larger boats as part of a crew builds teamwork skills and teaches the importance of being able to rely on others and contribute to a team. If your children show an interest in going afloat, encourage their desire as much as possible because nothing develops confidence, independence, and self-reliance as effectively as sailing.
Fitness is not compulsory!
Fortunately for many of us, sailing does not demand much in the way of physical fitness, unless you want to sail high-performance dinghies or race at top level. The rest of us can get away with average levels of fitness and rely on the physical exercise of sailing to help us get fitter. Because the sport of sailing offers such great variety, you can choose a type of sailing to suit both your inclination and your physical ability.
Even when it's not fun, its fun!
I must be honest, there are times when even the most dedicated sailor asks the question, "Why am I doing this?" At its best, sailing is unbeatable. You have freedom, satisfaction, and a real feeling of a connection with nature. On the other hand, sailing sometimes involves getting wet and cold, occasionally scares the hell out of you, and usually costs more than you will admit to your loved ones. But you still come back for more, even when you've sworn that you will positively never, ever go back on the water. Why do we do it? Because sailing offers a quality of reward that, if it could be bottled, would be worth a fortune. So, be warned, once you have tasted the champagne experiences that sailing can deliver, the occasional taste of vinegar will not stop you coming back for more.