Simply Messing About in Boats

There’s something about the Fourth of July weekend that invites us to abandon our big boats and splash around in little ones. Maybe because by the Fourth of July, it’s so hot most places that you want to be able to capsize on purpose. Or because you can pull small boats up on a beach and have a beer and a picnic without having to “keep a lookout.” For me, little boats have an element of nostalgia: They were always floating around at cabins and beaches, where my family congregated for the Fourth. People often “progress” to larger sailboats as they get older, so hopping back in a Laser makes many sailors feel young.

Most people get their start sailing in small boats (so many of us in Sunfishes), and with good reason. They’re easy to singlehand, they’re tender and responsive teachers, and they present only the essentials of sailing: a sail, minimal control lines, lateral resistance, and a way to steer. No engines to deal with, heads to pump, electronics to rely on. You concentrate only with the wind’s direction and the position of your sails.

ASA’s Exuma Islands flotilla that I went on this spring provided both an amazing vacation and a chance to earn our ASA 110 small boat certification. Whether you’re new to sailing or have spent lots of time on bigger boats, it’s a great course to take if you want to do more than just get from A to B. Small boat sailing emphasizes the fine art of sail trim, sail plan and balance, and boat balance. Sharpen these skills on small boats and you’ll see your big boat sailing mature as well. Take the class somewhere like the Exumas, and the capsize drill is a daily delight!

Investigate ASA’s 110 certification, if for no other reason than to give a nod to Ratty’s timeless wisdom, “There is nothing–absolutely nothing–half so worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”