Getting started in dinghy racing

Top sailing tips from Olympic silver medalist, Joe Glandfield

Dinghy sailing is a great water sport to get into if you want to get fit and healthy whilst having fun at the same time. When choosing a boat and crew for dinghy boat racing, it's important not to cut corners so here's the realbuzz guide - from Olympic silver-medalist Joe Glandfield - as to how to get the best out of your sailing buys.

Sailing is a hugely versatile sport and there are lots of different types of boats and racing to enjoy.

Handicap racing is when different types of boats race against each other in a timed race. Each class has a ‘py number’ according to their speed and this is used to calculate who has actually won, as it may well not be the first boat across the line. The good thing about this type of racing is that it allows you to race everyone from your club even when they sail a very different type of boat. The bad thing is that the racing can be spread out and you don’t know where you finished until the scores have been calculated later. You also often find there are certain classes that are better in particular conditions meaning you almost know who you are going to beat and lose to before you go to the water.

Fleet racing is when you only race against boats in the same type of boat as you. This is the best type of racing for improving your sailing skills, and in many respects is the most fun as it is usually very close and you know where you finish as soon as you cross the finish line. The problem in a small sailing club is finding enough boats of same class to make it interesting.

On top of racing from your local sailing club, in most classes there is the option of traveling to national events and racing against other sailors in the same type of boat. This can be costly with entry fees and travel costs, but it can give you access to bigger fleet sizes and a higher standard of competition. It will also help with your progress as you can get tips from different people and see how the best in the country are doing it.

Choosing the class of sailing boat
There are a huge number of different classes to choose from all offering different things to the sailor. Before you commit to buying a certain boat it is worth getting as many details as possible. All classes have different size/weight requirements, fleet sizes and standards of racing. Some classes will be more challenging to sail and will require a lot of time working on the boat handling. Others on the other hand, may be quite easy to sail in most conditions so will have a high emphasis on the tactics in order to be successful. A good start is to have a look at what classes are popular at your local sailing club. By sailing one of these classes you can often get good advice and there is usually lots of second hand kit available.

If you are a youth sailor it is worth looking at the RYA recognized classes as they offer good, organised racing and will have regular training weekends aimed at different standards.

The Olympic classes offer something different and are not recommended for beginners. It is possible to race in these classes without doing an ‘Olympic campaign’ (which requires a huge level of commitment) but the standard is very high, and more serious then other national classes. Most Olympic sailors are full-time, but there are also a number of part-time sailors that have got to the front of national classes that want the challenge of Olympic standard racing.

Things to consider when choosing a class of sailing boat:

  • The ideal weight and size for the class.
  • Do you want to sail on your own with other people?
  • The size of the national fleet.
  • The standard of racing.
  • How difficult the boat is to handle?
  • If the class has international events?
  • If it is one design or a development class?
  • The social program
  • Is the class growing or shrinking nationally?

Creating a sailing team
If you are sailing anything other then a single-handed boat you are in a team sport and you will need to find someone to sail with. There are so many different types of sailing and levels at which you can compete, that the job of finding someone suitable needs to be given a lot of thought.

It is important to have your own goals and ambitions clearly mapped out before approaching someone to sail with, this will help any potential teammate immediately decide if they are interested in what you are proposing. Before you even step foot in a boat it is worth asking each other some fundamental questions….

  1. Are you the right size together for the boat you want to sail?
  2. How much sailing do you want to do?
  3. If you work, how much holiday are you willing to put towards sailing?
  4. Where are you going to sail?
  5. Are you going to sail through the winter?
  6. How much money are you willing to invest into your sailing?
  7. How highly do you prioritize sailing amongst other hobbies and interests?
  8. Do your sailing skills compliment each other's?
  9. Do you respect what the other person has to offer?
  10. Could you get on with one another socially? 

It is unlikely that you are going to be in agreement over all these issues and some are more important then others, but compromises would need to be found in order to avoid problems later on.

As with all relationships your attitude and what you are willing to put into your team will make a big difference to the success. Here are some golden rules teams I am involved with stick to:

  1. Respect each other’s opinion.
  2. Trust that the other is doing their up most to achieve the team’s common goal.
  3. Accept differences in approach and make room for individual flair.
  4. Once you commit to a decision back each other and pursue it whole-heartedly.
  5. Appreciate that there will be disagreements.
  6. Play to each other’s strengths on and off the water, even if it means going out of your way to help with something they struggle to do.
  7. Never let on to any of your competitors weaknesses or problems within the team.

Remember, no matter what the level, sailing with others should be fun, and embracing the fact you are in a team sport is how you are most likely to achieve this.

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