Smooth-Sailing Crafts, By Land or By Sea
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Outside magazine, June 1995
Smooth-Sailing Crafts, By Land or By Sea
On the car or in the water, boards and boats that are a breeze to handle
God does not deduct from a man’s life the hours spent sailing. At least that’s what the bumper stickers, mugs, and needlepoint pillows in Florida’s beach shops have always said. For years, however, I considered that aphorism only a half-truth. Everything was bliss once you were skimming along the water, but when it came to transporting, rigging, or climbing up the learning
But nowadays such vessels are as approachable as your local ATM. Starter sailboards require nary a knot to put on water and are at once benign enough to learn on yet sophisticated enough to grow into. Small sailboats have a minimum of rigging, won’t pitch you in a gust, and come at a fraction of the price of any other sit-down sailing craft. Of course, both sailboards and small
To make things even easier, most neophyte sailors need only consider buying from one sailboard category: longboards. Not to oversimplify, but consider a longboard as any model that has a centerboard. With that keel in the middle, beginners and intermediates get a modicum of additional stability and have an easier time navigating in flat water or chop.
However, there are still some details to consider, namely board volume, sail size, and local weather. Since board volume roughly equals flotation, and flotation has a lot to do with how easily a board can plane, the general rule is that the heavier you are, the more board volume you’ll want. If you’re under 140 pounds you needn’t worry–you can float on a 135-liter wisp of
Weather and sail size pretty much go together: The bigger the winds you’ll be sailing in, the smaller the sail you’ll want to handle. A five-meter slalom sail, with a few camber inducers in place to help catch the wind, will let you get up some speed in moderate wind and is easy to uphaul. Six-meter and bigger slalom sails are better for consistently light winds or for the
Enough shop talk. Let’s move on to four boards that are easy to get onto, as well as grow into (prices include sail rigs).
The Mistral One Design ($2,199) may be the designated sailboard for the 1996 Olympics, but it’s also proof that novices and elite athletes can find happiness on the same plank. A beginner can ride the One Design, with its sliding mast track and multiple footstraps, right over its generous, 25-inch wide center. As that same sailor improves, she can
Mistral’s Escape ($1,675) is almost as stable as the One Design but will suit a lighter athlete. It’s actually wider than its Olympic-bound sibling by about half an inch, but it’s only 11 feet, three inches long and has a volume of just 190 liters. With a squatter design and a nearly flat bottom, the board needs a bit more wind to plane. But when
The Bic Rumba has the potential to be more playful still. A quick glance at the stats shows the Rumba to be a great value in a longboard for a lightweight sailor or even a teenager: For $999 you get a 24-pound setup that’s stable (23 inches wide), short (ten feet, two inches), and has a smallish sail (5.5 meters) and a low volume (150 liters).
The F2 Xantos 310 ($2,190) is a genuine slalom board, but an athletic beginner or intermediate will find it sufficiently stable and addictingly fast. The F2’s nimble capabilities have to do with its tossable dimensions (ten feet, two inches long, 19.5 pounds) and the unusual distribution of its 143 liters of volume: There’s barely any mass in the
In the interest of user-friendliness I drafted a friend who has little tiller-in-hand experience to assist me. The first tests for each boat went well: With two of us sharing the work, all vessels were easy to lift and took less than 30 minutes to rig.
Steep chines and a beamy, five-foot-wide figure make the Sunfish Laser Zuma ($2,800) as unintimidating as a sailboat gets. It’s stable, sits high in the water, and without any cleats has nothing to catch the sail and tip you disconcertingly in a gust. In light, eight- to ten-knot winds my friend was quickly comfortable with tiller in one hand and
Switching to Sunfish Laser’s Laser ($3,620), my friend came to a couple of quick conclusions: “It’s wet. And it’s fast.” With the standard 76-square-foot sail (about 15 percent more sail area than on the Zuma), relatively narrow beam (four and a half feet), and quick-planing hull, the hugely popular Laser offers a lively ride. That can be scary for
The new and downsized Hobie Wave ($2,995) is as much about kicking back as about catching wind. The 13-foot catamaran has a seven-foot beam and a generous trampoline, which accommodates a small family or up to four adults, and Hobie has installed built-in drink holders for four of your favorite beverages. However, if you want to sail, the company couldn’t have made it simpler: The Wave’s sail forgoes a boom for a lightweight batten, so there’s no fear of getting thwacked on the head during jibes. One handle controls both rudders, which also kick up, and thanks to the Wave’s wide, floaty hulls, it’s nearly impossible to pitchpole the boat. The company even throws in a how-to video with
Nancy K. Crowell is the former editor of Windsurfer magazine. She currently writes and makes films in Florida.