(Feature photo:  Flying Juniors in the Austin Yacht Club Centerboard Regatta, Sept 12.  Photo credit:  Steve Ward)

The white Hobie 16 catamaran is flipped over on its side, one hull floating the other seven feet off the water.  The righting line is supposed to help us flip it back over.  So I’m holding the rope and hanging with all my weight.  It’s not working.

The Hobie Cat 16 is the classic beach catamaran designed by Hobie Alter in California and first sold in 1969.  It’s a rocket ship of a boat, fast and light.  More than 100,000 were sold, bringing fast, fun sailing to the masses (source: hobiecat.com).

Without gloves the rope is biting into my fingers.   I can bear it for two minutes before I have to let go and drop into the lake.  We climb back on the overturned hull and try again.

I’m here because I offered to crew this morning at the end-of-summer AYC Centerboard Regatta.

The second floor clubhouse was electric when I arrived at 9:30 on the breezy, sunny Saturday morning (I’m keen on logging racing hours to meet the club’s 15-event minimum for new members).  Kids are running around in life vests, rash guards and flip-flops.  Hot coffee and donuts are being consumed by all.  The emcee has to call for quiet over the mic more than once to settle the crowd of sailors eager to get on the water.

The commodore and race committee talk us through the rules for the day.  They talk about the floating race markers, which direction to round them (left or right), fleet starting sequences, penalties and more.

On the water Evan and I get a rocky start.  We’re both new to this type of racing, so we have a lot to learn.

A Nacra Catamaran in the AYC Centerboard Regatta.

Minutes into the first race we have two problems:  the mainsheet* traveler is binding and the sail’s not up all the way.  We unhook the block and sheet and try to figure out what’s wrong.  After struggling around the course, we sail back to the dock to work on the problem.  This is Evan’s very first time sailing the boat, so he doesn’t have a hang of the rigging yet.  When we haul on the main the traveler should slide smoothly – but it won’t.  It’s binding and making a mess of our sailing.

On my iPhone we find a groovy 80s video on “Rigging a Hobie 16.”  I watch while searching for water and a snack.  About two-thirds into the grainy video the host demonstrates rigging the mainsheet through blocks, fairlead cam cleat, traveler and finally a padeye on deck.

Back on the boat we follow the instructions and the sheet works smoothly now.  We sail back out and instead of re-entering the race we spend the rest of the afternoon learning the boat.

Evan’s Hobie 16 started as a Hobie Mexico Worlds Race boat in 2004.  He bought it on the secondary market for a great deal.  The hull and sails are covered with big name sponsors (e.g., Dell, Coca-Cola).

A foiling Moth, rumored to sail over 20 knots.

With the boat properly rigged we gradually improve our tacks and other maneuvering.  Evan’s on helm and main, I’m on jib sheets.  Hobie Cats are notoriously hard to tack, so we spend several rounds trying to perfect the move.

Finally, we start to get the hang of things.  As the wind puffs we get more confident and start pointing higher which makes the boat lean way over.  We have to hike out to windward, using our weight to counter the boat’s desire to dunk us again.  Now the speed is really coming on.  We slice through the water, passing other boats now (we’re not racing, just cruising around the lake).  We’re catching power boats and gaining on much larger sailboats with ease.

“This is why I got this boat,” Evan yells with a big grin.  It’s my turn to grin and yell when I hike out over the water from the trapeze for the first time.  It’s like dangling in a child’s bucket swing, skittering a foot above the water, nearly spinning out of control.


The secret to righting the boat was:  climb on the floating hull, stand, pull the righting rope down, clip onto our body harnesses and lean back.  In that position our weight is most effective and the sails slowly peel away and rise out of the water.  “Watch your head!  Unclip!” I said as the boat flopped over and stood upright.

I can’t wait to do it all again.


* A rope that controls the bottom of a sail is called a “sheet”

Sunfish and FJs competing in the Austin Yacht Club Centerboard Regatta.


(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.

AYC's dinghies are used in the junior sailing programs. The University of Texas sailing program is also based at the club. (Photo credit: Steve Ward)
AYC’s dinghies are used in the junior sailing programs. The University of Texas sailing program is also based at the club. (Photo credit: Steve Ward)

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 Laser I sailed at AYC (Photo credit: Steve Ward).
The Laser I sailed at AYC (Photo credit: Steve Ward).

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.

A Pico dinghy of the AYC Junior Sailing Program
A Pico dinghy of the AYC Junior Sailing Program