camasonian

Which Dinghy for Portland, OR (PDX) area sailing?

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I know there are a variety of PDX area sailers here.  I've recently moved my family back to the Portland area and I'm thinking about getting back into sailing after a LONG hiatus.  Decades ago I used to race dinghys in college (in the Portland area and Northwest) and did a bit of crewing on larger boats in Seattle in grad school.  Casual J-boat stuff.  But I've been out of sailing for a long time.

I have two daughters ages 13 and 16 who I'd also like to get into the sport and also just be able to get out and do some family cruising around with my wife and kids.   My limitations are budget and storage.  I'd prefer not to go above say $5 to $7 grand unless really necessary. I also have no boat parking at home so will need to store a boat at a club or perhaps get a keel boat to put on the Columbia.   Also would prefer a boat that crews 3 so I can bring both girls or bring one and one of their friends.  Far as I can tell, my options are the following:

1. Lightnings at Vancouver Lake Sailing Club.  We actually live in Camas so this is our closest dinghy venue.  I went out to visit and the facility seemed nice and family oriented.  The two most active fleets seemed to be Lightnings and Lasers.  I saw lots of other boats in the yard but mostly seemed to be a random collection of other stuff, lots that look pretty unused.  The only boats I saw racing on Tuesday night were the Lightnings (about 8 of them) and a few lasers.  Went out with my daughter on a club members Lightning to race and it was fun athough the boat seemed rather fussy to tune and looked pretty complicated to rig and unrig if I ever wanted to sail anywhere else.  It appears there are a few Lightnings for sale a the club so that looks like my first and best option.

2. Daysailers at Willamette Sailing Club.  This is down on the Willamette south of downtown Portland and close to where I sailed in college.  A 15-20 minute longer drive for me (35-45 min compared to more like 20).   They have Thistles, Lido 14s and Daysailers as their main fleets.  Thistle seems a little agressive for a family boat and less conducive to family sailing.  LIdo seems like the Coronado 15s my college sailing team had and probably too small to take the whole family of four out for excursions.  The Daysailer seems like the sweet spot and probably a better boat than the Lighning for an occasional racing occasional family boat.  Don't know if there are any local options for sale but I can't imagine they are too hard to find.

3.  Skip the dinghy sailing and buy a small keel boat to put on the Columbia.  This would be the closest option to my house.  There seems like about 10 active fleets of small keelboats on the Columbia from Cal 20s and Catalina 22s and J24s to more expensive racing machines like Melges 24 but I'm not sure how active they all are.  Here's the list:  https://sailpdx.org/racing/racing-fleets/  I've never skippered a keelboat and that would be less engaging for the girls I think as I want something more athletic for them to engage in.  But the Columbia looks more fun than either Vancouver Lake or the Willamette.

Seems like my two most logical choices if I want to get the kids into racing and sailing is to buy a Lightning and sail on Vancouver Lake, or buy a Daysailer and sail on the Willamette.  Or else buy some other one-off design that isn't actively raced around here and just mess around with it and race with some of the other fleets from time to time.  Most likely still keep it at one of the two clubs as I have no parking at home.   I think I prefer Vancouver Lake as a venue but the the Daysailer as a family learning boat.  Especially if I want to pack it up from time to time to sail elsewhere.  We live only 40 minutes from Cascade Locks, for example and it looks fun to take a dinghy out there some summer weekends.

What's the forum consensus?

Lightnings at the closer club?  (this is what I'm leaning towards)

Daysailer (or maybe Thistle) at the more distant club

Some other similar size dinghy that doesn't have an active local fleet and just do what I can with it locally, most likely at Vancouver Lake

Go to the dark side and get a small keelboat on the Columbia.

 

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I think you've made a good evaluation so far.  Tough choices but I'd also look at if you can get to the club in time. C15s says you probably sailed with L&C many years ago.  Traffic in Portland has grown exponentially so can you get the family from school and work in Camas to SW Portland for 6:30 weeknight starts consistently if you choose DS racing at WSC?  Hate to make that a factor in what should be sailing discussion.

Cascade Locks is fantastic but more of an off-the-beach dinghy environment than trailerables. Lasers, Tasers, Aeros, etc.

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5 minutes ago, LFL said:

I think you've made a good evaluation so far.  Tough choices but I'd also look at if you can get to the club in time. C15s says you probably sailed with L&C many years ago.  Traffic in Portland has grown exponentially so can you get the family from school and work in Camas to SW Portland for 6:30 weeknight starts consistently if you choose DS racing at WSC?  Hate to make that a factor in what should be sailing discussion.

Cascade Locks is fantastic but more of an off-the-beach dinghy environment than trailerables. Lasers, Tasers, Aeros, etc.

Vancouver Lake is super easy.  Just a straight shot down highway 14 for me and there is never really any afternoon traffic on 14.  So probably 20 minute most weekday evenings.

Willamette Sailing Club would be driving across the I-5 or I-205 bridge and through downtown Portland.  It's a reverse commute with most of the traffic going the other direction.  I"ve checked google maps a few times this afternoon and at 5:45 pm today it says 30 min.  An hour ago at 4:30 it was 40 min.  But if you pick the wrong bridge and get stuck you can be in traffic hell.

So yes, Vancouver Lake is closer by about 3 miles but also pretty much no traffic ever unless there is a wreck that closes highway 14 or something.  I'd MUCH prefer the drive over to Vancouver Lake rather than driving through central Portland on a weekday evening to get to Willamette.  

Vancouver Lake also seems like the nicer venue and it's more low key.  I sailed at Reed College back in the 80s and they had their small fleet of Coronados down at the Waverly marina just south of the Sellwood bridge.  So that was basically tack back and forth endlessly as the river is even narrower down there.   OK for practicing I guess but got kind of boring.

I'm leaning towards just buying a mid-level Lightning that is in decent shape and can possibly locally competitive with a new set of sails.  There are a couple for sale.  Would not be my perfect boat but I'd rather join a local fleet that has some action and help rather than go it alone.   Summer winds here seem pretty light so I don't think a Lightning will be an overly difficult boat to get the girls on to learn racing.

Are there any local fleets of newer boats getting built up or is that just a pipe dream?

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35 minutes ago, LFL said:

Cascade Locks is fantastic but more of an off-the-beach dinghy environment than trailerables. Lasers, Tasers, Aeros, etc.

I haven't actually sailed out there.  Since I'd be coming from the WA side on Highway 14 I was actually looking at something like launching out of the Cascade Boat Ramp that is in downtown Stevenson on the WA side.  But maybe that's not a good location for sailing.   Plus the Lightning seems like a rather fussy rig to haul around for weekend sailing.

Maybe I just need two boats, one that stays put for dinghy racing and a second one to haul around for weekending.   But that way lies madness!  Or at least dragons.  I have an older daughter in college and two yet to come.

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The DS is a 3 wire rig that stands up on the deck in a few minutes, sails properly and has room for a crowd for daysails. Docile enough to send the teens out alone when ready. Doesn't have the racer street cred of Lightning though.

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With the demise of the WSC Vanguard15 and Tasar fleets years ago, I think Lidos and Daysailers are the "newest" crewed dinghys 'round here.  

Well plenty of weeks of racing left this year to try to meet and greet at both clubs.  All your choices are good active fleets with great people.

And I fully support a multiple boat plan!

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21 minutes ago, Dex Sawash said:

The DS is a 3 wire rig that stands up on the deck in a few minutes, sails properly and has room for a crowd for daysails. Docile enough to send the teens out alone when ready. Doesn't have the racer street cred of Lightning though.

As a boat I think the daysailer would be my first choice of the two.  But the club with the Lightnings is closer and more convenient and I think the lake venue where the Lightnings are sailed is larger and a nicer venue than the river sailing at the club with the daysailers.  Of course they are now saying that Vancouver Lake could get eaten by milfoil in a couple years if they can't get ahold of the invasive plants.  So if it's not one thing its another.

Nothing is forever.  I just gotta pick one and roll with it.  I'm leaning towards the Lightnings based on location and venue.  The folks were nice and some of them were screaming good.   But I'll go poke around on race day at the other club to see how active the DS fleet is and see what it feels like as well.  I'm guessing at Willamette the good racers are mostly on the Thistles.  I don't think I want to put my girls on a Thistle.  I crewed on one once years ago and it was a pretty rough experience.

I guess no one is trying to convince me to buy something new and exotic like a VX One that no one else around here sails and I probably couldn't afford anyway.

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Get three Lasers and radial rigs as needed. Then go sail a lot.  

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Both the lightnings and Thistle fleets nationally are very family oriented with families frequently sailing and traveling together. 

The Lightning is not as complex to rig as it appears. Probably takes 2-3 people 30-45m to rig. The real issue is the weight. Need good towing vehicle and as way to launch and recover. 

the Vancouver fleet are really nice people and some of them travel the west coast extensively. We (505 fleet) see them at Vancouver BC in the summer and fall. 

Lightning is way more comfortable than the  Thistle in my opinion, and both have similar sailing characteristics. 

I would start crewing on a Lightning and see where it leads. VLYC also does Optis and Radials for the kids.  

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1 hour ago, Locus said:

Both the lightnings and Thistle fleets nationally are very family oriented with families frequently sailing and traveling together. 

The Lightning is not as complex to rig as it appears. Probably takes 2-3 people 30-45m to rig. The real issue is the weight. Need good towing vehicle and as way to launch and recover. 

the Vancouver fleet are really nice people and some of them travel the west coast extensively. We (505 fleet) see them at Vancouver BC in the summer and fall. 

Lightning is way more comfortable than the  Thistle in my opinion, and both have similar sailing characteristics. 

I would start crewing on a Lightning and see where it leads. VLYC also does Optis and Radials for the kids.  

Towing is not a problem.  I've got a V6 Highlander with 5000 tow rating that I've used to tow a 4000 lb camping trailer all over the west.  Lightning should be child's play.  Mostly just towing it 50 yards down the ramp and back up.  Heck, I think I could do that with my wife's Prius if necessary.

I'm leaning strongly towards the Lightnings.  More convenient fleet location and seems like a servicable boat for what I'm looking for.  Summers here aren't known for strong winds so I don''t think it will be too much boat for the girls and me.  It's not like we are taking it out on SF Bay.  At least not to start.  Going to go out again and talk to the folks tonight.  Seems there might be a variety of possible boats for sale for someone who is thinking of using the boat locally.    They sound more interested in keeping the fleet active locally rather than selling extra boats off to people who will take them elsewhere.  

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Does the club have mast-up storage? The Lightning is a really fun boat to sail but putting the mast up and down is a major PITA. If you can't keep it some place you can leave the mast up, I'd think seriously about the Daysailer instead.

FB- Doug

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Having grown up on Lightnings, they get my vote. Yes, they’re a bit “tweaky.”  In all honesty, that’s no big deal. The back half of the fleet does a lot of set and forget with many of those strings. While you’re getting back into it and teaching the kids, that’s probably where you’ll mix it up. Not a big deal though, because the fleet tends to be crazy friendly and always happy to teach. 

The only time shit gets real is the race to the hoist after the race!  

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50 minutes ago, Steam Flyer said:

Does the club have mast-up storage? The Lightning is a really fun boat to sail but putting the mast up and down is a major PITA. If you can't keep it some place you can leave the mast up, I'd think seriously about the Daysailer instead.

FB- Doug

Yes, very nice facility.  They have plenty of storage in the secure grassy parking area next to the ramp.  Most everyone stores their boats on a trailer with the mast up and a cover on.  They just pull their cars or pickups up to the boat, rig it and then tow it down to the private club ramp.  Very simple and quick.  You can be in the water as fast as you can hook your car up to the trailer, get the cover off, and get the sails rigged.  Whole place is private and gated so no competing with any outsider users.  In fact, the whole lake is almost private.  No one else seems to use it other than the rowing club on the other side.  They have a 5 mph speed limit on motors so the only motorized boats you see are the clubs rescue boats.  I think there is a public park with beach access so you might get a few kayakers from time to time but not very often as they have so many other areas to go.

 

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I sailed on the WIllamette for 6 years and at Vancouver Lake for the last 5, and currently live in Vancouver, about 12 minutes from the lake. During my last years at Willamette SC, I had to add about 10 minutes more to the trip, on average, from year to year. The trip truly sucked at the end, and was very unpredictable. That said, the Daysailer fleet at WSC were the greatest folks to hang out with. But sailings conditions on the Willamette are awful compared to Vancouver Lake - shifty winds, loads of traffic, noise and constrained space. The drawbacks to Vancouver Lake are shallow depth and stagnating water, with attendant algae blooms. The milfoil is a new problem, but the first treatment to knock it back is already approved, paid for and scheduled for October when water conditions permit. There are a couple of Daysailers on Vancouver Lake that get out occasionally, a number of Lido's that rarely do, and of course, the Lightnings. You get an active racing fleet, tons of available advice and expertise, and one of the most beautiful dinghies on the water. However, I'd also consider picking up something extra that the girls can blast around in on their own and that you can singlehand when getting a Lightning out isn't convenient or crew isn't available. RS Fevas and Teras are made for teenagers, indestructible and are great to singlehand. But a Laser or anything you can toss in the water quickly would do the trick.

Go for time on the water, and try to reduce any factors that might get in the way. BTW, I'm not a Lightning owner or a racer - I have an Aero and a Weta at Vancouver Lake and get out about as much as anyone. But if I raced, I'd have a Laser and a Lightning.

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Lightnings are comfortable boats to sail.  Seats with a coaming to rest your back against, and a deck to sit on (or stretch out on if you’re not racing).  There’s space under the foredeck to stow lunch or other stuff, and the weight of the boat means that crew weight (or lack of it) is less critical than with lighter dinghies. They have enough sail area to enable good performance in light air, but are tough enough to handle a stiff breeze as well. Planing in one without a spinnaker up is a real sleighride!  Their numbers mean that there are good sailors to compete against, while the relatively simple setup and sensible fittings - you don’t have to be able to bench-press 250 pounds to trim the sheets - makes them good platforms for long-term family involvement.  These are all reasons the Lightning has been around for so long, and why there are active fleets from coast to coast and lots of places in between. 

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Lightning it is then.   

Now I just gotta find the right one.  Looks like I have enough local options to have some choice of price and condition so I don't have to chase all over the country.

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2 hours ago, PaulK said:

Lightnings are comfortable boats to sail.  ..... ...

?? Really??

Don't want to talk anybody out of it, but my wife would physically assault you if she heard you saying that.

- DSK

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You  need to treat her better, and not make her droop hike on the topsides. Solings and Thistles are a lot less comfortable.

 

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16 hours ago, camasonian said:

Lightning it is then.   

Now I just gotta find the right one.  Looks like I have enough local options to have some choice of price and condition so I don't have to chase all over the country.

And as a safety reminder, when you do find the right boat be sure to check the buoyancy tanks for leaks before you go sailing. 

Good luck with your adventure. 

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5 hours ago, PaulK said:

You  need to treat her better, and not make her droop hike on the topsides. Solings and Thistles are a lot less comfortable.

 

And Finns!    ..... all is relative

Actually , Lightnings are so much fun to sail that they don't seem uncomfortable -unless- you are either sitting in light air, or fighting big chop+gusts>20.... and with the latter, you don't realize what's happening until you either do it for a couple hours, or after you get in. But every Lightning father or husband has a story about being called out re: suspicious bruises on their family members.

Cama, when shopping for a Lightning, take a good look at the structure under the dashboard, and of course all the running rigging/fittings. Back in the 1990s I put several grand into replacing control lines & blocks/cleats. A setback for the new sail budget.......

FB- Doug

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1 hour ago, Steam Flyer said:

And Finns!    ..... all is relative

Actually , Lightnings are so much fun to sail that they don't seem uncomfortable -unless- you are either sitting in light air, or fighting big chop+gusts>20.... and with the latter, you don't realize what's happening until you either do it for a couple hours, or after you get in. But every Lightning father or husband has a story about being called out re: suspicious bruises on their family members.

Cama, when shopping for a Lightning, take a good look at the structure under the dashboard, and of course all the running rigging/fittings. Back in the 1990s I put several grand into replacing control lines & blocks/cleats. A setback for the new sail budget.......

FB- Doug

Thanks guys.  It appears that some of the club members who are actively sailing are looking to upgrade to newer fancier boats so there are several boats possibly available that are actively being sailed and being successful raced locally and regionally.   And there are some older boats sitting in the yard that haven’t been in the water or even have had their covers off in years and they will obviously require more work and more careful inspections.   

All things being equal, I’m more inclined to pull the trigger on a boat that is currently being raced and doing well this season as it is more likely  to be in good shape and I’ll have the previous owner available for help.  All the club members seem to know which boats are doing well and they know all the secrets.   Plus when I do badly as is inevitable I will know it is me and not a problem with the boat.  Looks like I have a choice of at least 4 boats in this category of different ages and price points.

There are several older boats on rusted trailers that don’t appear to have been in the water in years and are more of a project than I really want to take on.  And when all is said and done after I’ve bought new sails, new lines, new tires, new cover, etc and applied lots of work, I’m not sure I will come out ahead anyway.  

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On 8/21/2019 at 3:25 PM, camasonian said:

Thanks guys.  It appears that some of the club members who are actively sailing are looking to upgrade to newer fancier boats so there are several boats possibly available that are actively being sailed and being successful raced locally and regionally.   And there are some older boats sitting in the yard that haven’t been in the water or even have had their covers off in years and they will obviously require more work and more careful inspections.   

All things being equal, I’m more inclined to pull the trigger on a boat that is currently being raced and doing well this season as it is more likely  to be in good shape and I’ll have the previous owner available for help.  All the club members seem to know which boats are doing well and they know all the secrets.   Plus when I do badly as is inevitable I will know it is me and not a problem with the boat.  Looks like I have a choice of at least 4 boats in this category of different ages and price points.

There are several older boats on rusted trailers that don’t appear to have been in the water in years and are more of a project than I really want to take on.  And when all is said and done after I’ve bought new sails, new lines, new tires, new cover, etc and applied lots of work, I’m not sure I will come out ahead anyway.  

You are absolutely correct in going for an older, but active boat. It’s amazing how many little, but expensive upgrades are out there. 
 

I still laugh about my dad selling his boat because it was a “slow hull.”  The guy who bought it dominated with that boat. He’s one of the best in the world in a Lightning now, so obviously moved into a new boat, but it was funny watching my dad try to come up with excuses. 

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i heard Daysailor nationals are in Eugene soon? 

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Teach the kids in a smaller boat first, I'd say. Before you get a keel boat....

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I'll give a shout out to Vanc. Lake.  A closer commute means you will sail more often.  I raced my Lightning there many times in the 1980's.  It was  a great, inexpensive, family venue then and I'm sure it still is.  .   I wonder if any of the old timers are there.  Great people and families; Dr Phil P, John DeB. Jerry N. or the Hickman clan.  Thanks for for bringing up the memories.

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