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I'll browse the site or choose my avatar. Are you sure you don't want to finish? You're almost done! I'll sign up later. Close Search. Error loading the service. The Escape is not loaded with high technology, but it uses technology to achieve two goals that could prove crucial to luring the masses to sailing: The Escape is cheap, and it is easy to use.

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Many people in the sailing business, though, find Mr. Johnstone's brashness and lofty claims a bit much. They dismiss his new sailboat as nothing more than a toy and contend that it will do little to revitalize the industry.

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Johnstone's sailboat is cheap because it is built of plastic, a material that old salts scorn but that keeps construction costs down. And it is easy to use because of its innovative design and such helpful gizmos as a color-coded wind-direction indicator that shows how to orient the sails. Novices can master the basics in about an hour.

Johnstone, who is Our whole schtick is to make it so simple that anybody who ever thought about sailing would try it. Customers are beginning to try it. Johnstone said his company, based in Portsmouth, R. That does not sound like a lot until one realizes that the entire United States sailing industry sold about 14, boats last year, counting everything from eight-foot dinghies to millionaires' mega-yachts. As with small sailboats, bicycles were pretty much the domain of children and a few hard-core racers until some Northern California enthusiasts added knobby tires and heavy-duty components to start the mountain bike craze.

Skates were kid stuff, too, until Rollerblade Inc. And while snowboards are the bane of ski snobs, no one can dispute that they have brought thousands of new people to the slopes. Of course, selling sailboats today is harder than it was back in the 's. After all, there were no personal computers, mountain bikes or sea kayaks then to consume spare time -- and there was more spare time to consume.

Another problem is that too many people associate sailing with the America's Cup races and with yacht clubs, which often come across as exclusive and excluding. And it was not just the sport's elitist image that turned off consumers.

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  • Market research showed that many people were intimidated by sailboats, viewing them as too expensive, too complicated to operate and too easy to tip over. Johnstone said.

    So when the potential customer thinks, 'Should I look at sailing? What most sets the Escape apart from conventional sailboats is the way that its hull and deck are constructed of plastic from a single mold rather than being built separately with fiberglass and then attached together. This method holds several advantages. While the plastic -- rotomolded polyethylene, the same material used in modern kayaks -- is not as strong or as light as fiberglass, it cuts manufacturing costs by 75 percent.

    It is also more resistant to scratches. At the same time, the hull shape -- broad and flat at the waterline -- makes the boat more stable and less likely to tip over. The Escape's rigging is also different. The mast is made of carbon fiber, meaning that it bends more easily than the standard aluminum or wood, letting it spill excess wind that might overpower a novice sailor.

    The boom, the horizontal spar that holds the bottom of the sail, stands by itself rather than extending from the mast. That makes it less likely to bang heads, and allows the boat's operator to shorten the sails quickly if the wind kicks up, thus preventing the boat from capsizing.

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    Beginners, not surprisingly, love the Escape. Even some longtime seafarers see the attraction of the boat. Si Kamen, 78, is an experienced sailor who owns a larger boat, but he keeps an Escape at the dock behind his home in Bel Marin Keys, Calif.

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    Best of all, ''you unroll the sail and you're off, in two minutes. Reviews of the Escape sailboats by the sailing establishment have been mixed, with some deriding them as plastic pool toys and others praising any product that can bring fresh faces to the sport.