The St. Martin Yacht Club: Dinghy Sailing Here Is Too Much Fun To Be Legal

By Rich

If you are lucky enough to be able to spend a season in St. Martin, be sure to join the St. Martin Yacht Club. Dues are very inexpensive, you get a discount on food and drinks and, best of all, the proceeds of your dues go to training the next generation of local sailors. Another major perk: you get to take out the Club’s dinghies! They have excellent trainers like the RS Zest I have been taking out, in addition to other other offerings like Lasers.

I’ve gone out sailing in the lagoon three times now, each time in gusty winds ranging from 0 to massive 30 knots gusts (seriously – the breeze here is really up and down)! It’s terrific practice and instantly brough me back to that giddy, child-like excitement one feels when a dinghy accelerates in an instant and hops up on a plane. The sea state in the lagoon is also very flat, making for an excellent training ground.

I am proud to say that over the course of three days I have not flipped the boat or gone swimming yet (jinx!) and have only submarined the nose once on a blast reach. Fortunately, the Zest simply imitated a Volvo Ocean Race boat and scooped up a bunch of green water that washed back along the decks instead of spinning out and flipping or, potentially much worse – pitch poling! Submarining the nose on these boats is really only a risk when they are accelerating from a low speed, combined with the mistake of not getting crew weight aft fast enough to keep the nose up. Once they are on a full plane they are totally stable and benign. In fact in all conditions these boats are really forgiving – when getting blasted with a gust going upwind they are much more prone to spinning up into the wind with a stalled rudder than flipping. They are also super quick and easy to rig and de rig, so they are at once benign enough for training and entertaining enough for experienced sailors.

If you’re new to dinghies or need a refresher, the Yacht Club offers lessons too. After an exciting morning of sailing, you can pop up to the bar where you can lie to your friends about how good of a dinghy sailor you are over lunch and some drinks. One last perk: the Yacht Club is immediately adjacent to the bridge through which mega yachts enter and exit the lagoon, which is very entertaining to watch. What a great setup! St. Martin Yacht Club is literally a playground for adults who love sailing.

The author on a close reach about to bear away to pop up on to a plane. When a big gust hits the trick is to let the boat accelerate before trying to bear away, or the rudder will stall and you will simply broach (see below!).
The big gusts come down the lagoon like a freight train. Here was a failed attempt to bear away in order to pop up onto a plane; I failed to let the boat accelerate before bearing away. Notice the rudder has completely stalled. Fortunately the RS Zest is a very benign boat and in this case it gave me enough warning to dump the main and simply broach into the wind instead of flipping. Another dodgy aspect of the boat’s attitude here – note how the bow is starting to look like it’s tempted to submarine. You need to get aft more quickly than I have here and keep the apparent wind angle high enough that the boat is allowed to accelerate before steering down.
This time I got it right – once you bear away the heel drops off and the boat pops up on to a plane. It’s only just beginning to accelerate here; we didn’t get it on film but a few moments later this wound up being one of the more exciting gusts I rode on Sunday.

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