(feature photo: Flying Junior dinghies at AYC. Photo credit: Steve Ward)
“Are there any adult boats?” my wife asked. Laura remembers the dinghy Anna sailed when she was five. That boat, for kids up to 14, was the 8′ bathtub-shaped International Optimist – or, Opti as everyone calls it.
A few days later I’m standing on the same floating pavilion where Anna had sailing camp at Austin Yacht Club. A couple dozen dinghies line the docks: Flying Juniors, Lasers, Picos and Optis. A handmade wooden Opti at the end hides under a canvas cover. These boats are for kids in the junior program but on “free sail” Sundays in the summer member adults can sail them too. Well, all but the Opti which is too small.
For years I’ve wanted to sail a Laser – this was my chance. The Laser is a popular, Olympic-class boat (over 200,000 boats in 140 countries according to the International Laser Class Association). A winner from last America’s Cup, Tom Slingsby, took the gold in Lasers at the 2012 Olympics.
I stood in the 95 degree sun while an AYC coach graciously rigged the tiny mast, boom and white sail. I hop down, sit on the gunwale and put my feet in the cramped footwell. I have to take off my water shoes, with all the lines and hiking straps in the way.
In the light breeze the boat inches away from the dock. It’s easy going at first. I’m only using two controls, tiller and sheet. When I sheet-in, the skinny mast easily bends back, tightening the draft of the sail.
Whoa! I have to be careful where I sit.
If I sit squarely on the gunwale in light wind the boat tips over. I start to learn the motion and the controls. It’s light air at first, then five minutes later the breeze builds. When I push the tiller the boat carves smartly through tacks. I’m all grins and laughing now. The leeward “rail” dips into the water and I hike out to windward.
I have no idea how fast I’m going, but it feels like flying.
The next weekend I take Laura and Anna with me. Together we sail on a Flying Junior (or “FJ”). It’s bigger than a Laser and usually sailed by a team of two. A few years ago the The University of Texas Sailing Team moved to AYC and trains on FJs there.
The girls loved it. They sat up front and handled the jib sheets. I sat in back and handled the main and steering. Later Laura tells me she learned a lot in just that short time on the FJ. I’m happy to hear it. Small boats give such immediate, tangible feedback that you quickly feel what’s happening with the wind and the boat.