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Stick & Rudder

Updated: Mar 9, 2021

Taking a Rainbow 24 out of the Annapolis Sailing School was the perfect bait for the hook. Sailing at the fundamental level made me mental for sailing...

Photo: Mike D.

When I was younger my uncle had a World War II era Piper Cub airplane. He would take me up in it occasionally and teach me the basics of flying. I can still hear him in the hanger, "This is stick and rudder son.. no electronics on this airplane.. it's as fundamental as flying gets and it is the perfect way to learn about flight." And he was 100% accurate.

To actually feel the air was incredible. I could feel that I was actually moving through a fluid, and using that fluid to my advantage. Once I realized this and was able to feel it via the control stick, understanding lift and Bernoulli's Principle of fluid dynamics was easy. Understanding what made the wing move up or down made sense.

Well, time past and my uncle sold his airplane. Most of my time in airplanes over the past 15 years has been fighting for an isle seat on a Southwest Flight to some client meeting or conference. Then the day came when I decided to take the ASA101 basic keelboat course at the Annapolis Sailing School in Annapolis, MD. In the course, much of it takes place on the water in the school's Rainbow 24's. The course was great and it was a great way to reintroduce myself to sailing and basic introductory seamanship, but what truly struck me was that same experience I had with my uncle, feeling the air and adding to it the fluid dynamics of the water on the keel and rudder.

These Rainbow 24's are great classic boats designed by Sparkman & Stephens and built in Owings, Maryland specifically as instructional boats for the Annapolis Sailing School in the 1960's. The youngest Rainbow currently at the school was built in 1974.

Rainbow 24 - Annapolis Sailing School | Photo: Mike D.

They have a ballast of 1,120 lbs and is so solid on the water they are virtually unflippable. She will heel over in a good wind but stays stable and safe. It really is a perfect and forgiving boat to learn on.

The tiller allows you to feel the wind in the sails and the water under them very clearly... fundamentally experiencing the sailing. This allows you to be one with the boat and to learn what the boat is feeling to better coordinate with her. (the hippy in me coming out here I guess.)

There isn't one piece of electrical equipment aboard. You sail out of the dock, out onto the mouth of the Severn River with Annapolis Harbor and the Naval Academy as your backdrop. I must have taken a Rainbow out 10 times this summer and each time I gaped at the view of the Naval Academy, the Bay Bridge, and the beauty of experiencing it as naturally as the sailors of earlier times.

After sailing the Rainbows all summer, I took the next level ASA103 Basic Coastal Cruising course. My time on the Rainbows set me up perfectly for the next step, sailing one of the schools 2 Beneteau Oceanis 37'. Having repeatedly practiced the fundamentals all summer in the Rainbows, I was more able to "feel" the 37 footer, even though she has so many features that the Rainbow doesn't. Having learned to tune myself into the boat and listening to her, I was able to transfer that to the larger boat.

Rainbow 24 - Annapolis Sailing School | Photo: Mike D.

It's not the same of course, but it doesn't matter how many "features" a vessel has, the fluid dynamics don't change. Wind moves over the leeward side of the sail faster to create lift, and hydrodynamics works on the keel and rudder.

The Annapolis Sailing School rents the Rainbows out daily from the school. They even have a keelboat club that has many perks and offers great discounts if you plan to sail more than a few times. (see link here)

If you are new to sailing it makes 100% sense to start yourself on a vessel like this.. but I submit that if you have been sailing on a larger sailboat, take a break and jump in a fundamental sailboat like the Rainbow 24. It is a fantastic way to tune yourself back into the base layer of sailing. It also provides a true reminder of what we are actually out there doing... fundamentally using the power of the earth to move us forward. Us, the wind, and the water.


Mike D. is the founder of Sail Junky Magazine. Striving to find more purpose in life, Mike writes and shares about his journey to rediscover his passion for living a fulfilled life, especially through the medium of sailing.

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