Summer Sailing

Sailboat off shore

Sailing is a fun way to enjoy the outdoors in the summer months

With increasingly pleasant weather just a few months away, it’s time to start thinking about summer activities. It’s hard to consider warm sunshine and bright blue skies without thinking about all the great lakes we have in Kansas. There are certainly quite a few water sports available to us during the summer; one of my favorites is sailing. I am certainly not what one would consider experienced; in fact I’ve only been a few times, but it’s enough to whet my appetite for more.

There are so many diverse and appealing qualities to sailing it is impossible to list them all. I enjoy the sensation of gliding along at speed in complete silence, unreliant on any form of power that must be paid for and can run out. Historically sailing is one of the world’s most ancient and universal endeavors–evidence exists that humans have been sailing since at least 4000 BC–and I think it’s exciting to be a part of that human tradition. Together these qualities produce a romantic appeal that is difficult for other activities to match.

Sailing can be enjoyed and practiced in a diverse range of ways. A single novice can sail an inexpensive dinghy in a small Kansas lake for casual enjoyment, or a crew of highly experienced sailors can man a large expensive ship in a competitive race at sea. For many sailors, finding other crews to sail with is a way of meeting new people with the same interests. I have found that experienced sailors are typically enthusiastic about teaching novices such as myself how to appreciate sailing as much as they do.

It is not necessary to be an engineering or technical expert to enjoy sailing, but one should have at least a basic idea how the physics work. A sail is an airfoil and works the same way as an airplane wing or propellor. When a sail begins to fill with wind it will cause one side of the sail to curve out while the other side curves in. The difference in apparent length between the two sides causes the air to travel faster on the convex side. The resulting pressure imbalance produces force in accordance with Bernoulli’s principle.The addition of a rudder allows the boat to be steered, and a fin jutting out from the bottom, called a centerboard, keeps the boat from scooting sideways or toppling over. The combination of all three elements working in harmony–the angle of the sail filled with wind, the angle of the rudder, and the stabilizing centerboard–is what produces the ability to steer and send the boat in the right direction. An experienced sailor will be more skilled at balancing these elements and heading in the direction he or she desires while efficiently harnessing the windpower available to produce speed.

As a physical pursuit sailing can be relaxing or athletically demanding, depending on what one is after. Performing in a race, or at high speeds, or high seas can demand a huge amount of agility and physical strength to keep the vessel under control. In addition the psychological stresses involved and the teamwork required by a crew to keep from being overwhelmed and swamped in severe conditions are considerable.

Sailboat racing is a regulated sport and is governed by the International Sailing Federation, not unlike FIBA for basketball or FIFA for soccer. Like those sports, sailboat racing is an Olympic event. Some of the more famous events include the America’s Cup, which is between just two yachts, the defending champion and a designated challenger, and the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, which often features over one hundred competitors.

The large lakes, clear summer weather, and frequent strong winds in Kansas provide for great sailboating.  Most of these lakes have at least one sailing club and most typically offer classes during the spring for those who are interested. Here at Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library we have a considerable selection of materials for both beginning and advanced sailors. Dinghy Sailing by Sarah Ell is a good book for beginners, while more advanced sailors can always brush up on their skills and knowledge by consulting Charles F. Chapman’s authoritative Piloting, Seamanship, & Small Boat Handling.  

  • Kim

    Hi Brian,

    I enjoyed reading this. We took a 2-hour sailing excursion in San Diego a few years ago and watching the captain manipulate the sails was fascinating to see up close. More locally, just sitting and watching the sailboats at Clinton and Perry is peaceful and relaxing. Ready for spring!

  • Nate

    I’ve never been sailing, Brian, but you make it sound like fun. I might have to try it sometime!