The drift is sweet to me in this sea. Ode to open boats. PHOTOS

A Laser class athlete at the 2018 Genoa Italian Olympic Classes Championship. Photo Giuffrè/Sailing Newspaper

Picture yourself at the beach in summer. You are relaxing in the sun, taking a refreshing swim, then suddenly you see the dark line of the wind on the horizon, the breeze comes in, your boat is already rigged on the shoreline, and in a few minutes you enter the water and set off at speed with your drift. It is the easiest, most fun and fulfilling way to experience the sea; in fact, dinghies are sometimes the “primal instinct” of those who love sailing. Easier to manage than a cabin boat, less expensive to buy and maintain, dinghies, and open boats in general, offer us that essential contact with the water. The Sailing Newspaper inaugurates with this first article a series of in-depth articles on the world of open boats that we will publish on our website and later in a more articulate and in-depth form in our print edition.

The Hobie Cat on the beach, it’s a super classic of summer sailing “beach life”

Small dinghies we can take to a larger boat, keep them in a garage or on a sheltered beach even year-round, get them ready in minutes, and need no real annual storage but only routine maintenance. There are all kinds on the market. As singles, in doubles, for a small crew of 3-4 people, those designed for sailing school, planing or equipped with foils.


There are the super classics, those that we might call evergreen and have a timeless appeal: for example, the various versions of the Hobie Cat (which although catamarans should be lumped together in the large world of small open boats), the immortal Laser, the Finn, the 420 and 470, and the Star.

470 racing at the 2018 Genoa Olympic Classes Championship. Photo Giuffrè/Sailing Newspaper

Then there are what we might call cult ones, distinguished by unconventional shapes that have spanned the history of sailing: for example, the classic dinghy, the Fireball, the Contender, the Flyng Dutchman.

Dinghy racing in Naples. Photos Francesco&Roberta Rastrelli

Then there are the school dinghies for very small, small and large: the Optimist, theO’pen Bic, L’Equipe, the Trident, the Caravel, or the newer and more modern RS in Feva, Tera and Quest versions.

The RS Quest. Photo Giuffrè/Sailing Newspaper

And then there are those for speed lovers, which we could divide into gliding and flying. In the first category should undoubtedly be included all skiffs, beginning with the Olympic 49er; in the second, developments in recent years have established on an international scale especially the Moth and Waszp, but these are only two examples of a rapidly expanding galaxy.

A young sailor flying on her Waszp. Photo Martina Orsini


But what do these types of drifts we have listed have in common, besides fun? They will be able better than any cabin boat to “teach” us the rudiments and technique of sailing. In fact, on such lightweight boats, each action of the crew corresponds to an exponential reaction of the boat. If, for example, on a dinghy we move one foot downwind the boat will heel abruptly and start to heel, similar reaction when we cock the mainsheet.

Laserist Valentina Balbi leads her overbanded laser aft to optimize speed in this gait. Photo Giuffrè/Sailing Newspaper

On dinghies in practice there is a constant immediate tangible response of the boat to every action of the crew. This is a key aspect of quickly improving the technique of those navigating on it for the first time, because it will be possible to move quickly from theoretical concepts to practical and tangible ones. Which is much more difficult on large boats: on a non-racing cabin cruiser if we leave a few centimeters of mainsail base the boat will have no reaction, or rather this will be imperceptible to the untrained eye and not immediate, consequently it will be much more difficult for a novice sailor to understand the usefulness of this or that adjustment and theoretical concepts will have less immediate feedback in practice. That is why the best sailors are said to be dinghy sailors, those in the Olympic classes or those who trained on dinghies before moving to offshore boats.

And then there’s that excitement, that sense of freedom, of waiting on the beach with the boat already ready for the breeze to arrive. Getting our feet dirty with sand as we push it into the water. Take those four five steps with water coming up to our waist to push the boat out of the wave and get on board on the fly. Cocking the sails, feeling her go, going out on the trapeze with the wind in her face. The wake coming off even upwind, and a feeling of happiness and adrenaline that only these great little boats can give us. Try it to believe.

Mauro Giuffrè



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