There be dragons here!
While you spoiled Californians may have been venturing out onto the water all winter long, most of us in Vancouver are just starting our sailing season -- we don't like frostbitten toes! This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of crewing on a Dragon in a one-design regatta. The Dragon is a "modern classic": designed in 1929 with extremely elegant lines, this 29 footer has been updated again and again to remain an exciting keelboat. She has a furling jib, a symmetric spinnaker which launches from a chute below deck (very similar to our Bahias), and really feels more like an incredibly large dinghy than a keelboat. Her RYA handicap puts her just a bit slower than a 470, so she would destroy one of our Bahias in a race.
This was my first time racing on a keelboat, and I don't know why I waited so long to do it! It was fascinating to see a keelboat set up for racing, in contrast to our Commanders which are set up for, well, pretty much the exact opposite of racing. Did somebody say "spinnaker practice?" I must have hoisted and doused the kite ten times, and I can't even count the number of times we gybed with it up. At the beginning of the day I was just concentrating on not wrapping the jib sheets around the spinnaker pole, but by the end of the day I was doing end for end gybes on the foredeck fairly smoothly. As they say, practice makes perfect. Even with my bumbling help, our Dragon "Rum 'n' Monkey" managed to place solidly in the middle of the fleet. I look forward to honing my skills throughout the summer; I think once our crew of three gets dialed in, we'll be unstoppable (or at least close to it).
If you ever get a chance to sail a Dragon, I recommend you take it -- they are pretty fun boats! But even more importantly, all you aspiring dinghy sailors should take any opportunity you can to crew during keelboat races. It's fun, and you'll learn a lot, including many things which will improve on your dinghy sailing. Fortunately, Friday evening racing at Berkeley Yacht Club has just started up for the season. If you show up at O-dock at the Berkeley marina around 5:30pm any Friday evening (dressed to sail and with a six-pack for after the races) chances are you'll get a crew spot on a boat. It's a chance too good to miss.
Dragons are gorgeous boats. Saw them racing during my brief stay in Seattle. Similar boat you can find here locally are the Columbia 5.5 Meters, little sisters to the 12 Meters of America's Cup fame. 32'-5" LOA, 6'-2" beam, only 22" of freeboard mid ship. Narrow, sleek, with elegant bow and stern overhangs. A huge dinghy, able to control everything on the fly, even mast rake with adjustable headstay and jumper struts. I just purchased one last year, Hull #35, 50 years young. Sailing it is unlike any keelboat I ever sailed before, so I'm learning all over again. But gosh, they are such beautiful classics.