Weather was perfect, about 80 degrees, a stiff wind carried us forward like we had a long team of spirited horses pulling in front of our bow. This particular Beneteau was familiar to us both as we had both owned Beneteaus of varied lengths for a number of years. But this cruise was to explore the 50 foot class and determine if either of us really liked that size over the 40 or 30 footers we had owned. It was a harmless test and a terrific cruise with our wives and friends.
I was reveling in the ease of handling and day dreaming a bit at the same time of a smaller boat that had taught me how to sail some 46 years previous. So, while at the helm, I said to my friend, "You know Hugo, it really doesn't seem to matter how big she is...she still sails like that 12 1/2 foot dinghy..." He knew my sailing history and he smiled back, a seasoned sailor himself, who had first sailed on a boat he had made from spare parts of wood lashed together, a simple sail for power, and the North Sea as his playground.
There is something about one's first sail that never seems to fade from memory. And the feeling of the wind in her teeth, her graceful lines slicing the azure waters, her rudder responding to a touch of the helm, these were the identical ingredients in a sailing dinghy of long ago. Just multiplied by one hundred or so!
If you ever find the perfect sailboat, don't ever let it go. If you can at all help it! You'll seek to find her again and again in every vessel you sail.
For me it was a 12 and 1/2 foot wooden, lap-strake ( another shipbuilding term! ), cat rig, dingy sailing vessel, in the ink blue waters of the Pacific when I was 14 years old. My teacher was a young man named Stephen Tibbetts-perhaps he'll find this blog? He was probably 20 years old then. I can remember my task was to man the mainsheet. Stephen was calm and confident as we ripped out into the ocean in a stiff breeze off the coast of Hickam Air Force Base. I loved the water. Even as a younger boy crossing the Atlantic, I had stood with my chin on the handrail of cruise ships watching the water pass by the ship's hull. Even then I was drawn to the water and heard it talking to me in splashes and colors. This day it was very close to the little dinghy's gunwales, and I was certain that this couldn't be a good thing for us. Yet, Stephen told me to haul in on the mainsheet, "further, further," he said, and as I did the little vessel skimmed faster. We ballasted her by leaning out to windward. I was enthralled.
And that day in the Caribbean with similar conditions, I was enthralled. Size didn't matter at all, because the sensations were identical, only larger in the Beneteau. Yet in the small boats, like the dinghies and the Cape Dory, it is closer to you. Because she is smaller you feel every puff of wind, even a vesper will scoot her along. She responds quickly to the tiller wherever your dreams wish to take you.
Recently, another friend came aboard the Baggy Wrinkles for some pleasure sailing with me. A large Italian with a hearty appetite and gregarious personality, Vinny was quite impressed with the Cape Dory's sturdy design. Yet as the winds picked up to over 20 knots, he was quite certain he'd need to counter-balance the heeling as the water passed near her toe-rail. I smiled and said, "No need to get excited Vinny, she can handle it, you'll see." He braced backward to sit upon the coamings but I was afraid he might destroy them if he tried to hike outward! "Stay in the boat Vinny, this is where the Dory shows you her capability to sail..." He was not quite convinced but she showed him she could handle the pounding of the wind.
Stiffening breezes took us away for several hours to places only a sailor can imagine. I felt as if I was back in that dinghy in the Pacific yet with a Classic Dory underway.