Dear Mr. Tillerman:Hmmm. You would think that would be easy.
I too am 60-something.
I too would like to die in a Laser.
But I am a prairie boy from Calgary, Alberta who knows nothing about sailing.
I recently bought a Laser.
I need to learn to sail it.
If I could wait till next summer, I'd go to the Laser Sailing School in Weymouth, England and make a holiday out of it. But I can't wait. Nor can I face another winter in the cold frozen north (Canada) without a break.
Do you know of any schools where a guy could attend for a week or so to learn how to rig and sail a Laser? I mean, anywhere in the world, though Florida or California would be the most convenient. But convenience is not as important as learning how to sail; so I'd go anywhere, preferably in February when winter is at its worst up here.
But then I realized that I don't know of any sailing schools that teach total beginners in Lasers. In fact, most of the schools I know start beginners out on keelboats or on two-man dinghies, with an instructor in each boat with the students.
There's a good reason for that I suspect. When the instructor in is in the same boat as the beginners, it's much easier to show them what to do, and to correct their inevitable mistakes before one of those mistakes causes them to capsize, or broach, or crash into another boat, or head off uncontrollably in the general direction of Bermuda. Shouting from a nearby motor-boat is a poor second to (literally) hands-on instruction.
It's also a lot easier for raw beginners to learn the various elements of sailing a boat separately at first. Where is the wind coming from? What course do you want to steer? How should you balance the boat? How should you trim the sails? How should you steer? In a single-hander on your own you basically have to learn everything at once.
In particular I always found when teaching kids in Optimists and Sunfish that it was almost essential to have them learn the two skills of (a) steering and (b) trimming the sail separately at first. It was just too much for most kids to learn those skills simultaneously in the first lesson. I suspect it's even harder for older brains.
There's also the factor that the total beginner in a lively single-hander like a Laser has none of those self preservation instincts that are natural to more experienced sailors after a few hours in the boat. They don't automatically ease the sheets and/or hike harder when a puff hits... so they capsize to leeward. And if the boat accelerates to a scary (to them) speed on a reach they don't know that heading up or easing the sheet will slow them down. They are just as likely to panic and bear off and end up in a death roll. You can tell them this stuff on the land but until they've had a few capsizes like that they just don't have the quick reactions to avoid trouble.
No big deal, you might say. Let them go out in a 20 knot breeze and capsize a few times. Well, I guess that's one way to teach sailing but it's not a good feeling for a sailing instructor when a gust hits his class of 6 or 8 kids in single-handers and they all scream off out of control in different directions and execute wild capsizes in random places about half a mile from each other, and then start crying for help. Been there, done that. Got the T-shirt. Learned the hard way. (The parents of New Jersey sleep easier in their beds now that I am no longer teaching their kids to sail.)
To be sure, there are some schools that teach beginners in single-handers but they usually use a boat a little more stable and forgiving than a Laser. For example, Minorca Sailing (of which I have written here) uses the Laser Pico for instructing beginners.
My correspondent referenced the Laser Sailing School in Weymouth in the UK (which is operated by the manufacturer of Lasers and other boats: LaserPerformance.) Judging by their website they don't use Lasers for beginner classes either. They teach the first two RYA levels in the Stratos (keelboat), Bahia (dinghy for up to 4 adults), and Pico (single-hander). Once you have passed those two levels you can move on to their Introduction to Lasers course.
It's not that the Laser is especially hard to sail. But it probably is a bit too lively for most raw beginners in any wind above 10 knots, say. I'm sure some people do teach themselves sailing from scratch in a Laser, by starting off in lighter winds and then going out in stronger winds as they gain confidence. But I don't know of any sailing schools that use the Laser as a training boat for people like my friend who "knows nothing about sailing." Sorry.
However, the skills of sailing any dinghy are basically the same. So I would encourage the writer of the email to attend any good sailing school in whatever boats they have. And then go out and use what he has learned in his own Laser next summer. That's what I did.
Alternatively he could go to a school (like the one in Weymouth and Minorca Sailing) that has beginner classes followed by an intermediate class in Lasers... and plan on enough time to cover both classes.
Or can any of my readers give my friend a better answer to his question?