There are few images more evocative of summer than that of a Sunfish sailboat lazily cruising around a lake or bay — with its cheerfully striped triangle sail, topped off with the black silhouette of its namesake fish. If you went to summer camp or grew up near a flat body of water, chances are you learned how to sail on a Sunfish or at least were along for the ride. The Sunfish has been around since 1952 and continues to be one the most popular sailboats for both beginners and experienced sailers alike.
The Sunfish is distinguished by its simplicity, which makes it one of the easiest boats on which to learn how to sail, for both kids and adults alike. Its small size and single “lateen” sail (a triangular sail mounted at an angle on the mast), with its basic two line rigging, make it an easy boat to set up and set sail. Upgrades can be added for competitive sailing, of which the Sunfish is in fact a popular class of racing.
Sailing basics, like learning how to tack and jibe and use the wind, are easy to teach on a small boat. Being so low on the water, its size makes it very responsive too. Says Susan Koehler, one of the founders and owners of The Dinghy Shop in Amityville, Long Island in New York, and one of the largest Sunfish dealers on the East Coast, “With the Sunfish you can feel the water, feel the wind, and feel the response of the boat.”
Part of the fun of being so low in the water is on a hot summer day you’re sure to get wet — be it a refreshing splash or a likely dunk, if like this editor you decide to take one out for a sail for the first time since summer camp. Yes, the Sunfish can be easy to tip as we did, but they are easy to right as well and a good laugh usually ensues. Though I was acting as first mate, after 30 plus years my skipper’s sailing basics returned quickly as we jibed, tacked and sailed our way home — with me gleefully leaning off the side of the keeling boat, laughing and smiling just as I’d done as a kid.
A Sunfish is still what summer memories are made of.