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Dinghy Sailors Should Turn To Yachting To Step Up Their Game

25th September 2020
Young Cork dinghy racer Griff Kelleher and crew at sail Young Cork dinghy racer Griff Kelleher and crew at sail

Youth sailing prospect Griff Kelleher from the Royal Cork Yacht Club gives a glimpse of the world of yacht racing from a dinghy sailor’s perspective, and how the experience can make you a better sailor all round…

In sailing, we are a very tightly knit community. This means you may often be invited onto others’ boats.

Now, if it’s a yacht you get invited onto, they are likely to have everything different than what you’re used to, including hiking positions, a very sexy sail wardrobe, and extra controls for its sails, as well as weird and wonderful courses and manoeuvres.

In dinghy sailing, it is usually pretty simple and good fun to hop onto a friend’s boat for an evening’s racing. However, when a dinghy sailor gets asked onto a yacht? Oh boy.

Allow me to take you on a journey through the world of yacht racing from a dinghy sailor’s perspective…

One difference I have noticed from moving between dinghies and yachts is that when you get hit by a bad gust with over 150 sqm of sail in the air, you had better bring ear muffs and a spare pair of jocks. On really big boats, things get loud and go sideways in an instant. In dinghy sailing, the boat might capsize and you get a bit of water on your conditioned hair. On yachts, it’s a bit different.

On yachts, you have a select few sailors known as bow-men (or bow-women). We bow-folks are a special breed, some would say a breed of questionable intelligence but pure bravery in the face of 30-plus knots, 70 degrees heel and a sail that needs to be dropped in a hurry.

When you start sailing on yachts, you usually will join us at the pointy end. Welcome, strap in, and it’s gonna be fun! But don’t forget your lecky tape (electrical tape); it is a godsend for bow-people.

When you join the yachties as a youth dingy sailor, you’ll be quick to notice that everything gets bigger as one might expect. That includes the loads on sheets, halyards, rigs, foils. So, mind your fingers in sheets and head in a gybe … it’s not a gentle bruise anymore.

Griff Kelleher

One example I have is when I was on a yacht with a mainsheet led onto the windward deck and trimmed from a winch in the cockpit. I was just pushing myself off the deck to go hiking and instinctively ripped my hand out from what I soon learned was a block on the deck connected to the winch further astern. I had the whole top of my finger ripped off and I was glad that was all! I then continued to do Bow #1 two days later with half my finger healing. Which brings me nicely on to my next point (no pun intended).

There is toughness and challenge to sailing on yachts. One thing I love about sailing the big boats is the long races, such as the coastal races and the four-to-six-hour days and nights on the water. As a dinghy sailor, a long day consists of a few races going roughly the same route over and over again. As Ken Read said in an interview with Shirley Robinson last year: “Windward leeward courses get very repetitive and push sailors out of the sport, or, if they’re lucky onto yachts.”

As a junior on a keelboat you are probably going to be somewhere up the front like I said, but if you’re lucky you can get front row seats to the big bow-breakers. Free showers. It is a great test of stamina and toughness — two key qualities of a good bowman and sailor in general. This again goes back to making dinghy sailing easier. When you face the challenges common in yachting, scaled-down dinghy sailing merely becomes a fun challenge.

After a while on the big boats, dinghies become so much easier, efficient, practiced. Due to your newfound adventure with the big boys, you have a better understanding of how a boat should be run, of how things work and don’t work and how to fix them. Also, once you’ve experienced a wipe-out or a big breeze day or a coastal on a yacht, dinghy sailing is like picking peaches.

To conclude my long ramble, I think dinghies are great, but I highly advise getting onto a yacht as well. It’s great for broadening your knowledge and networking, generally having a great laugh and awesome stories for school on Monday!

I hope you enjoyed your introduction to yachting and I hope you already feel the itch. So, what are you waiting for? Get yachting!

Published in Youth Sailing
Afloat.ie Team

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