Offshore Yachting : February March 2013
DANE LOJEK / ILLUSTRATION BY ANTHONY PASCOE THE PIN END 076 understand. A hot coffee spilled in your lap is dumb and painful, but it's sure not the restaurant's fault. This sort of consumer protectionism has extended to our dinghies as well. Take the Laser, for example. Now before everyone puts quill to paper to send me nasty letters, I love Lasers. I count Laser designer Bruce Kirby as a long-time friend, owned a Laser for many years and (he said, with no modesty whatsoever), I even won the heavyweight division of the Laser North Americans one year. Today, of course, I'd be lucky to place in the Master's Division, Heavy and Balding Fleet, but I surprised myself and a lot of other sailors by taking home the fat kid trophy. I also completely humiliated myself one year at St. Francis Yacht Club's Laser Slaloms, where I watched a young El Toro graduate named Paul Cayard jibe back and forth as easily as an Olympic skier schusses down a slope. After a brutal first day, I enjoyed the Slaloms from the club bar. But as tippy and squirrelly as the Laser could be on San Francisco's blustery bay, it still didn't have the edginess -- the pucker factor -- of a dinghy that had a one-capsize-per-day limit. Today, junior sailors tip their Lasers over and climb up on the high side just to eat lunch. If you capsize in a race, you can right yourself so quickly that you remain in contention. Capsizing isn't frightening when it's so commonplace. Capsize an Optimist, a Cadet, or an older Snipe, and you won't make the same mistake again. But many of today's dinghies are designed to protect beginners from themselves when, in fact, they need to have the fear put into them. I have a friend with a classic Ferrari and, having owned several vintage Porsches, we once compared notes and agreed that one of the secret pleasures of owning such vehicles was the edginess to them. Drive the Ferrari to a black-tie event at a fancy hotel, and spend the evening wondering if it would start at the end of the party. Without fear, there can be no courage. What fun would it be to drive a car that always started? Sailing a dinghy that can be capsized without penalty takes away the fear factor. I don't believe that teachers should rap the knuckles of students with a ruler, but you have to admit that it gets your attention. So there's my theory and corollary: small boat sailing makes better sailors, but the best sailors come from small boats with a pucker factor. A small boat, of course, has an immediacy to it that quickly teaches you what works and what doesn't. When you get a puff of wind and you don't ease the mainsheet, you capsize. On the other hand, if you ease the mainsheet too much, most small boats will do a snap roll to windward and capsize in that direction. A sailor in a dinghy on a mild day can learn the subtleties of wind, sail and sheet; of steering through chop to maintain boatspeed and of the effects that all the various adjustments can make on sails. A dinghy sailor quickly understands the intricacies of trim and weight distribution. A sailor aboard a keelboat, on the other hand, has all the responses dulled as if he were sailing while swathed in cotton. He can make big mistakes, and not be penalised. He can walk to the very bow and nothing spectacular will happen. A gust in a dinghy is a heart- stopping, adrenaline-rushing moment, but on a lead mine it's received in a more leisurely fashion. The boat tilts a bit, crew put down their drinks, and the skipper has time to consider if and how much the main should be eased. Keelboat sailors have training wheels, while dinghy sailors start out on bicycles and skin their knees in the process. But I'm afraid that the Small- Boat-Sailors-Are-Best concept is not as valid in today's world as it was a few years ago, and that's because dinghies have changed. And, in some ways, I don't think they've changed for the better. A wise person, or at least a thoughtful one, once said that without fear, there can be no courage. So I think there should be a corollary to the SBSAB (Small Boat Sailors Are Best) theory, and it has to do with what I'd call "terminality". It is the "pucker factor". When I started sailing in 8-foot prams many years ago, a capsize was a terminal event from which you couldn't recover without either outside help or a nearby beach. With more than 40 years as an award- winning boating journalist, and as a former editor of both Yachting and Sea magazines, Chris Caswell is a well-known racing sailor in the USA with silverware in everything from Lasers to ocean racers. He is the author of six books on boating. These dinghies had no self-bailing ability whatsoever. When the boat tilted too far, it filled with water to the skipper's elbows and everything -- sponge, course chart, lunch and skipper -- found themselves afloat. I think it was the sheer terminality of any mistake that turned beginning small boat sailors into fast learners. Brain fade for a moment and go swimming. Take your hand off the sheet and endure an embarrassing swamped tow back to the club. Cause and effect. Mistakes equal wet clothing. Today, however, we live in a world where people sue fast food restaurants after spilling hot coffee on themselves and we are surrounded by warnings to be careful of things that years ago we would have assumed everyone had the intelligence to There is an old adage in the sailing world that the best sailors are those that come from small boats. If you look at the winners (and even the non-winners) of major events such as the America's Cup or the Olympics, you'll see that there is a direct connection between the ability of the skippers and the size of the boat in which they started sailing. THE PUCKER FACTOR SIZE COUNTS FOR CHRIS CASWELL, AND IN THIS CASE SMALL IS BEST AND SMALL AND DANGEROUS IS BETTER -- MODERN DINGHIES MAY HAVE BECOME SO ADVANCED THAT YOUNG SAILORS HAVE LOST THE TRUE MEANING OF GETTING WET.
December January 2013
Offshore Yachting April-May 2013