Lessons of the Sabot Dinghy

Published on April 13th, 2021

For Sailing World, pro sailor Steve Hunt shares a playbook that will work for learning the nuances of any boat.


This past spring, I started ­sailing a Naples Sabot, which is a Southern California kids’ boat, somewhat like an Opti. There have always been adults, as well as kids, in this class, but when the pandemic hit, a lot of other adults jumped into the class, if nothing else, just to get on the water. As a result, San Diego YC’s Monday night fleet ­rapidly grew to around 25 very ­competitive boats.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Sabot, it’s an 8-foot, 95-pound cat-rigged dinghy, with a leeboard hanging off on the starboard side. They’ve been around since 1946. I didn’t sail Sabots or Optis growing up, so this was new territory for me—and light-years from the big J/70, Etchells and Melges 20 programs I’ve been involved in lately.

I bought a boat for my kids and myself, finally had some free time, and I was eager to go out and do well. My first Monday night race was OK, but I was slow for sure. I kept it clean on the starting line—all good starts away from the crowd—but the faster boats were clearly faster than me, so I really had no hope of doing well no matter how good my starts were. The next week I made it my mission to get out on the course early and do some experimenting, familiarizing myself with the boat to get faster. And it worked.

I got out an hour and 45 ­minutes early and first did a lap, upwind and then downwind, just to get a feel for the shifts and the boat, like we all usually do. The Sabot course at SDYC is small, so a lap took only about 10 minutes. Then I went through a series of upwind and downwind drills that really fast-tracked my boatspeed. They’re drills you can do on your own and on just about any boat. When finished, you’ll have a much better sense of your boat’s potential, and they will really free you up to focus on tactics. Plus, they will allow you to get around the course faster and hang in situations where you used to have to bail to allow you to continue ­sailing the right way. – Full report

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