fitness · racing · sailing

Is dinghy racing exercise? (with update!)

Is sailing a dinghy a workout?

What is a dinghy anyway? Let’s start with basics, “a small boat for recreation or racing, especially an open boat with a mast and sails.” My family has two different sorts, a Laser (raced singlehandedly) and a Snipe (a double handed boat.) Sarah and I have been racing the Snipe.

My participation in the 219 in 2019 group was the impetus to think about the question of “does dinghy racing count as exercise?”

I knew it was tiring. And racing sure felt like a workout so I listed it as a workout. A few hours went by and someone asked why it counted. Wren’t you just sitting on a boat letting the wind take you where you want to go? Maybe on a big boat, I thought. Maybe if you’re not racing. I got bit defensive. I did what defensive academics do. I went and looked things up.

I found this: How sailing can be a workout.

“Sailing is a sport that will work many aspects of physical fitness:

  • Core and muscle strength: Pulling on lines, hiking your boat, and maneuvering the rudder will all help develop core strength and general muscle strength. If you want a few sailing specific exercises, try partial crunches, squats, and single arm rows.
  • Aerobic fitness: If you’re on a relatively small sailboat, you will constantly be on the move doing things like adjusting the sails and moving from port to starboard. Do additional aerobic activity (cycling, hiking, dancing) to build up more stamina for when you next leave the dock.
  • Balance and agility: Manoeuvering around the boat and its tight quarters and finding your sea legs will all help improve your balance. Get a head start by trying activities like Tai Chi or balance exercises, to help prevent “spontaneous” swims!”

For me the there are three physically tough things:

As with rowing, it’s a workout in itself getting the boat in and out of the water. The Snipe weights 381 lbs. Yes, it goes into the water on a small trailer but you still have to lift the front end and pull. It takes two of us working hard. We struggle to get the boat into the water and a few hours later, tired from sailing, we really struggle to get it out the water. “Out” is also uphill! That’s the first hard thing.

The second hard thing is me-specific. With my bad knee I can struggle with balance and agility and finding a good spot to be on the boat where I can reach and see the things I need to reach and see. You also need to be able to change positions quickly and gracefully. It’s not easy and I’m constantly working on it.

The third thing is hard for everyone. It’s hiking. There are hiking straps on the boat. You use your weight to keep the boat as flat as possible. It’s like one continuous crunch. What is hiking exactly? Our friends at Wikipedi say, “In sailinghiking (stacking or stacking out in New Zealand; leaning out or sitting out in United Kingdom) is the action of moving the crew’s body weight as far to windward (upwind) as possible, in order to decrease the extent the boat heels (leans away from the wind). “

(UPDATE) Sarah, late to the blog party, chimes in: ” I think an important distinction to make is between “going for a sail” and racing a dinghy, which are as different as “going for a stroll” and race walking. In the latter, one’s body is actively engaged in going as fast as possible. Even if winds are too light to hike hard, sailors have active cores and legs as they balance the boat for optimum speed. In Sam’s case this can look like an extended deep squat while twisting her upper body to look around. In my case, with the main sheet in one hand and the tiller in the other, all of my movements must be “hands-free”. By the end of a race I am breathing hard and smiling. Dinghy sailing may not always be the most intense workout, but it’s definitely a fun one! “

Here is Sarah Douglas hiking. Douglas aims to represent Canada in the 2020 Games. The Torontonian is the 2019 Pan Am Games champion. Also a University of Guelph grad! (That’s where I’m a Dean.)

I’ve often wondered about the comparison between rowing and dinghy racing. I know rowing is physically more demanding. There’s mental effort but it’s in things like maintaining a rhythm, following orders, withstanding pain! Sailing is less physically demanding but more varied and much more about strategy and timing. You interact with other boats tactically in a way you don’t when rowing.

Here’s one comparison: Dingy sailing versus rowing

And here’s our racecourse from a recent race. It’s from Sarah’s Garmin.

3 thoughts on “Is dinghy racing exercise? (with update!)

  1. Outside and accounting for the elements (be they nice or inclement), fine and gross motor skills, coordination, balance, resistance, problem solving, teamwork.
    In what “exercise” might we exercise all of the above?
    Could it be rugby? Soccer? Why yes! But also – sailing!!

  2. I love this! Especially the looking up part. I didn’t know what hiking was (in the boat way), so this was really interesting. I’ve been on some 14-foot catamarans, which are much more stable. However, just helping sail one required agility and good reflexes and some speed, too (to avoid getting hit by the boom as it moves over). What you describe totally counts as a workout to me!

  3. I’ve only been in a dinghy a couple of times but I remember it being exhausting! There was a lot of moving around and fiddling with things while keeping the boat stable (I was in the UK, so we called it leaning out). Definitely exercise!

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