Hang around boaters long enough and you’ll run into some people who are immediately at ease the minute they step on board. Regardless of the boat’s size, style, purpose, or method of propulsion, they adapt seamlessly and seem to know where everything is (or where it should be) and how everything works.

I don’t fall into that category, and that has become quite obvious this summer. My first outings on a couple of different boats — one much smaller than our Pearson 30 Rita P and the other a bit larger — have shown me just how much I don’t know.

Unlike many of today’s racing sailors, I wasn’t raised on or near boats, and never took part in those junior yacht club sailing programs. I learned to sail as an adult, crewing on larger keel boats and eventually, with my husband, sailing on our own Pearson 26, then moving up to our Pearson 30. So the nuances of sailing don’t come naturally.

Some of the best sailors learned on dinghies — small, light boats with centerboards and far less stability than their larger counterparts. So when the opportunity came for me to take part in a ladies dinghy sailing program, I jumped at the chance. And while I might have had more sailing experience than some of the novices, my first time out was humbling.

After a talk-up from our youthful instructors, which included a mention of the possibility of capsizing, it was time to go down to the docks and try sailing the club’s 420 racing dinghies. The instructors did their best to match up more experienced participants with novices, and I was lucky to be paired with someone who was both enthusiastic and capable.

The 420 is a far cry from our Pearson 30, and sailing one of these little boats indeed made me feel like a beginner again. Just getting into the boat was an adventure. At just under 14 feet long and weighing a little over 200 pounds, the stability of a longer, heavier keel boat just isn’t there.

Sailing a dinghy proved both fun and enlightening. Fun because it didn’t take a lot of wind to move such a small, light boat. That’s good; no sailor wants to be becalmed. What made it enlightening was the 420’s incredible responsiveness. Think of Newton’s Law about action and reaction on steroids. Every effort to move from one side to the other during a tack produced backwinded sails and a stalled boat. It was almost like that little boat was laughing at the middle-aged ladies trying to sail it. Thank heavens the instructors have promised to go over weight distribution and the art of smooth tacking in a future session.

Despite our awkward technique, we were able to sail around and get back to the dock without capsizing or hitting another boat, making it a successful evening in my book. And the experts are right: sailing a dinghy sure does give you a better feeling of how a boat reacts to the wind, waves and actions of its participants.

At the other end of the spectrum, making the jump to a bigger boat has brought its own excitement and challenges. Randy and I have owned Rita P so long that we can practically sail her in our sleep. There’s a routine for everything, and most tasks are completed quickly, efficiently, and with little fanfare. It’s going to be a while before we can say the same about our new-to-us Pearson 34 Imagine. We’re going from a gasoline to diesel engine; a simple, virtually idiot-proof alcohol stove to more complex propane system; and among other things, from a tiller to a wheel.

While the tiller-to-wheel transition might sound easy, keep in mind we’re talking about two creatures of habit who have been sailing tiller-steered boats for more than 15 years. Our first (and so far, only) outing on Imagine was the local weeknight race, and repeated uttering of the phrase “No, other way” became a source of great entertainment. We were careful to keep our distance from other boats, as neither of us trusted ourselves to maneuver properly when it really mattered.

While it would be nice to be one of those people who is immediately at ease on any boat, part of me thinks that might take a little of the fun out of it. Instead, I look forward to the challenges that our new acquisition will present to us. And I hope I can learn to sail that little 420 with at least a token amount of competence.

Gail Rice of Freeport and her husband, Randy, race and cruise their Pearson 30 sloop on Casco Bay. She can be reached at:

[email protected]