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The Publisher

May 19, 2011, 10:45 AM

Post #1 of 12 (27368 views)
YOUTH SAILING IN THE U.S. Log-In to Post/Reply

There is a lot of correspondence that occurs each day at Scuttlebutt World Headquarters. We thought we would share this recent exchange to see if others want to comment too.

In Scuttlebutt 3345, there was a regatta report that noted how fifteen boats from the entire length of the western U.S. came to Santa Barbara, CA for the third regatta of the 2011 29er Pacific Coast Championship Series. And it was to this that a reader wrote, “Only 15 boats from Seattle, WA to Coronado, CA? It does not bode well for a class that’s been around for more than a decade...”

This was the reply of Scuttlebutt editor Craig Leweck...

“I think it’s more complicated than that, at least in the U.S.

“Speaking in general terms, the youth structure in the U.S. has moved the responsibility of boat ownership from individuals to yacht clubs. Then youth organizations created a sailing structure around non-technical Club FJs and Club 420s. For the majority of youth sailors, this path can extend from pre-teen through college.

“It is only recently that there has been enough people to split from this youth path, spend their own money on more technical boats (or some clubs have), and sail in events like the 29er PCC’s. The 29er has been competing with the International 420 as this alternative. Some of the motivation for this movement came from how U.S. kids were unprepared at doublehanded international events after having been trained in club style boats.

“It does make you think back to when youth sailors in the U.S. moved up from prams to Snipes, Blue Jays, Lightnings, Flying Scots, etc, and got involved at an earlier age with more advanced boats, and sailed in an atmosphere with both young and old people. Times have changed, and there are pros and cons that come with it.”

Do you have comments to add? Please post them in this thread.


May 20, 2011, 6:52 AM

Post #2 of 12 (27306 views)
Re: [The Publisher] YOUTH SAILING IN THE U.S. [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

Reality check: Most of the youth in these boats are in high school or college. They have academic responsibilities...two weeks of AP exams just ended and finals start next week at our high school; other schools are having proms, awards, and end of the year activities. People shouldn't assume that a smaller regatta isn't valuable, or that lower attendance indicates any problems other than the fact that our youth have complicated calendars!

The Publisher

May 23, 2011, 12:27 PM

Post #3 of 12 (27014 views)
Re: [The Publisher] YOUTH SAILING IN THE U.S. [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

Youth sailing in the U.S. has exploded. The structure of youth-only events using simplified boats has proven to be a popular format, and has provided a clear path from beginner sailing through college. The issue, however, is whether this path encourages young sailors to remain active in the sport beyond their youth years. Andrew Campbell, College Sailor of the Year (2006) and Youth World Champion (2002), is a product of the U.S. system. Here are his observations:

Sailors that are in the game by their own will, outside of structured youth sailing, are far more likely to learn important lessons that will increase their likelihood of continuing to sail after their youth years. I can guarantee a higher percentage of these young sailors will continue in the sport when compared to the general population of their peer group of youth sailors.

On one hand, there is a strong case made by many that the simplification of the boats at the youth level (ie, Club 420s and Club FJs) has both increased the overall participation of youth sailors by decreasing overall costs thus improving access. The continuation from simplified youth boats (often owned by local clubs) encourages sailors to participate further in Interscholastic and Intercollegiate Sailing, improving the overall pool of sailors at that level as well.

It is very clear that youth sailors improve more quickly when they race with and against more experienced sailors. The technical nature of a boat is irrelevant when we are talking about general experience level. However, what I am seeing is how sailors used to a highly structured youth-only environment struggle to keep the sport of sailing in their lives after they graduate from college and the realities of life kick in.

The missing component seems to be the lack of exposure to classes of boats with older sailors. Their only exposure to the sport is sitting alongside their coach boat with their parents waiting for them at the beach! Believe me, they will not be able to afford a coach forever, nor will their parents be waiting for them at the beach. At some point they are going to have to be in the sport for themselves.

If parents want their children to thrive in the sport, then they should allow their children to race along with them or other adults in the regattas they compete in. By providing a role model and a good example of the fact that sailing does continue after college, and it’s not always in a boat with just a mainsheet and a jibsheet, young sailors will be better equipped able to jump that looming gap between heavy structure and complete independence.

The Laser was the single most important boat I ever sailed for all of these reasons above. Once I got my license at age 16 I was on my own. My parents were hugely supportive if I requested their advice and time, but otherwise encouraged me to do it myself first. There are countless times when I put the boat on top of my car and traveled to the to Laser fleet events (ie, non youth events) throughout Southern California.. As a much younger sailor, not only was I learning valuable lessons about self-reliance, but I was learning an incredible amount about sailboat racing from sailors that had seen a lot more than I had at the time.

However, we could not have done this without a standard platform of competition, and what boat simpler platform than the Laser could do that? Ironically, the simplification, the cheapening, and the improving of access the Laser has provided for the last 30 years is the reason why many sailors are still playing this game. The sailors that will continue in the sport will continue in spite of the youth sailing structure. Young sailors will continue in the sport if they learn to value personal responsibility and love sailing for the right reasons.

Side notes:
* In the U.S., the Vanguard 15 movement has had success in providing a good option for athletic sailors in their post-college years. Likewise, I envision the yacht club movement towards keelboat team racing and keelboat match racing with club-owned boats as potentially being a very successful transition for American sailors who have grown up in simplified boats and structured programs. Using Sonars, J22s and other small keelboats evenly matched for interclub team racing and match racing is a great continuation for that type of sailor.

* Certainly the biggest problem from the Olympic Sailing perspective is that the sailors trained in club style boats have very little knowledge of tuning and more technical sailing when they get out of school.

* In my mind there is a cultural difference between the sailors that choose the 29er instead of the I-420. Many of the sailors overlap, but it seems to be the same sort of cultural difference between Melges 24 sailors and Star sailors even though they are demographically very similar. It’s hard to put a finger on it, but isn't this the beauty of sailboat racing?

The Publisher

May 23, 2011, 5:12 PM

Post #4 of 12 (27004 views)
Re: [The Publisher] YOUTH SAILING IN THE U.S. [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

From Chip Nilsen:
You are very correct when you mention that this is more complicated than one might understand at first blush. Many things contribute to participation at youth regattas in today’s diverse number of distractions with school being high on the list. Regarding the 29er a bit of history will also be helpful in seeing the future.

The 29er is just over a decade old and has been evolving into the youth platform of choice for much of the international community. Today it is common to have hundreds of entries at 29er events in Europe with the advantage of 29er worlds and similar regattas drawing throngs of international teams from around the world. The U.S. is in many respects behind the curve when it comes to international platforms like the 29er and the International 420 related to numbers, but this is moving quickly in the favor of the 29er in recent years.

I say this because the 29er a decade ago was in large part sailed by older teams that ranged from older teens to sailors in their 30’s, 40’s and beyond. Today however the model teams are youths choosing the 29er as the next platform as they exit the Opti style prams with the older heavier teams opting to move on to other competitive keel boats, college sailing or the skiffs like the I14, 49er and multihull platforms. With the 29er becoming the youth platform for which it was originally designed by Julian Bethwaite, along with Ian Bruce the father of the Laser, the 29er here in the U.S. is positioned for major growth.

This is evident with the recent announcement that the Melges Boat Works will be the new North American distributor of the 29er. The Melges family sees a bright future for the 29er & 29erXX shown by fully supporting the high performance platform as the newest member of the Melges fleet. So in the future, if you have a young sailor and you wish them to sail CFJ’s and the like, just make sure they never experience sailing the international 29er, because “Fast is Fun” and “Win or Swim” will be there mantras from that day forward. I can say this because this is what happened to me a few years back and I have seen it repeated many times since.

The Publisher

May 24, 2011, 7:06 AM

Post #5 of 12 (26728 views)
Re: [The Publisher] YOUTH SAILING IN THE U.S. [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

From Holly O'Hare:
Parents are spread thin these days with all the different activities kids are involved in and we can all agree sailing is not an inexpensive sport. If a family chooses to buy their own boat for their son or daughter, than factors like cost, size of local fleet, resale value, and classes sailed in junior programs, high school and college will be considered. The 29er is high in cost, small or no local fleets, low resale value, and not sailed in junior programs, high school, or college. Would you buy your kid a Corvette or a Camry?

If NASCAR is in their future - or the Olympics in the case of sailing - then it seems pretty logical why the class has not taken off. We have seen a lot of great double handed boats for juniors hit the market over the years but the FJ and 420 seem to hang in there as durable training boats with competitive classes. The 29er is certainly a great stepping stone to the Olympics but the reality is that only a handful of kids have the talent, drive, and resources to reach that level. Guessing about 15 boats worth...


May 24, 2011, 7:58 AM

Post #6 of 12 (26696 views)
Re: [The Publisher] YOUTH SAILING IN THE U.S. [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

Having photographed several 29er events and being a US-based former sailor, I can appreciate the disconnect. However, if you ever attend a European 29er event and see it for yourself, I suspect you'll come away saying, as I did, "This is the future of youth sailing."


May 24, 2011, 8:53 AM

Post #7 of 12 (26658 views)
Re: [ftelliott] YOUTH SAILING IN THE U.S. [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

I, too, think the 29er is on the way up in the U.S. So much so that we bought our son a used boat, he's going to Cork this summer to race and I talked the RC Chair at Coconut Grove Sailing Club into giving the 29ers and XX's a start in their December Orange Bowl event. We are going to work on getting other regattas here in Miami or on the East Coast during the winter to try to build some interest on this side (California host alot of regattas now), so stay tuned. I think there are good things to come with this class, especially with Melges on board.

The Publisher

May 25, 2011, 6:30 AM

Post #8 of 12 (26473 views)
Re: [The Publisher] YOUTH SAILING IN THE U.S. [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

At the age of 20, Allison Jolly became the youngest woman ever to win the U.S. Yachtswoman of the Year Award in 1976. And when the Olympics added the Women’s Doublehanded event in 1988, Allison with teammate Lynne Jewell dominated the heavy air event in Pusan, South Korea to earn gold.

When Allison began sailing at 10 years, youth sailing programs were much different. Now as the sailing coach for the University of South Florida Women's Varsity Team, she shares her observations on the changes:

As junior sailors 30 to 40 years ago, we were introduced to simple concepts about mast bend even in the prams we sailed. Our masts were laminated wood, and the selection of which timber(s) to use was based on your weight, the wind conditions you sailed in, and what mast bend characteristics you wanted. We were all expected to understand these concepts. Additionally, the easily adjusted vang and sprit control lines were led to the daggerboard trunk, so effecting sail shape was almost effortless.

After leaving prams, I was exposed to many wonderful classes which promoted an even greater understanding of the diverse combination of sails, rigs, foils, hulls, and the physics of sailing. These included Snipes, Windmills, Lightnings, Thistles, Fireballs, I-420's (no Club 420's in those days), FD's, 5-O-5's, and yes, 470's.

I competed in the inaugural US Youth Championships in 1973 in Wilmette, IL. Competition in the double-handed event was held in 470's, and I fell in love with the boat before I could even (legally) drive a car. Just imagine the top 20 youth double-handed sailors in the US competing in 470's today!

Having lamented the "dumbing-down" of youth sailing, however, I acknowledge there is at least one significant positive result. Transferring the responsibility of boat ownership to clubs and other organizations has allowed for greater access and increased the opportunity for more widespread community involvement in youth sailing.

The question is what happens to this influx of new competitive junior sailors once they attain a certain level. The sport of competitive sailing is generally associated with an elitist image, and unfortunately with fairly good reason. The inevitable costs associated with higher levels of competition make the sport prohibitively expensive for many of these sailors. But is the solution to continue "watering down" the sport for all juniors, putting U.S. sailors at a disadvantage on the international level?

I don't think so, but I don't have the solution.

Bruce Thompson

May 27, 2011, 6:51 AM

Post #9 of 12 (26268 views)
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If you want people to believe that sailing is a sport for life, you need to show them lifetime sailors. The focus on youth sailing does not fill the bill. Showing them professional sailors does not fit the bill. What you need to show is adult amatuers living the sport. Where are the faces of the women who sail? People live in families, I knew we were on to something with our junior fleet when the Moms started to get together and socialize while the kids were out learning. No helicopter moms for us, they are quite happy to let the kids learn while they watch and relax. And now the young couples who race in the Vanguard 15s are looking to promote Junior Fleet so their toddlers will have a place to sail when they get to an appropriate age.

I have mentioned Lightnings a few times on Scuttleutt, because you see families sailing together in them. The third place team at our last big regatta was a family; Dad, Mom and their nine year old son. We have a similar situation with our Rhodes 19 fleet. Pushing kids into singlehanders (Optis and Lasers) isolates them from the opportunites they'd get in double and triplehanded boats suitable for adults (e.g Snipes, Flying Scots etc.) Those classes have survived so long because they are intergenerational. That is where the future lies.

The Publisher

May 30, 2011, 5:48 AM

Post #10 of 12 (26103 views)
Re: [The Publisher] YOUTH SAILING IN THE U.S. [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

From Pete Thomas:
I have been following the US youth sailing thread this week with interest. Near as I can tell, there was likely a mindset of well intentioned parents who have had an immense impact on the sport, and perhaps not in the best of ways.

There was a time when American kids would first learn to sail, and then in their pre-teen years would ease into the various areas of established sailing. But with the growth of youth-only events in simpler youth-only boats, young sailors have been given a similar experience as all the other sports that are available for young people.

And based on the comments, it seems like this plan has been great for introducing more people to sailors, but has failed to:
- Instill an interest of sailing that can last beyond their youth years.
- Provide adequate training to compete internationally.

So youth sailing has become a youth sport, which has kept young sailors away from keelboats and all the other one design classes. And when youth sailing ends, there is a good chance that sailing ends for that young person. Sounds like negatives outweigh the positives.

Is it possible that these well-intentioned parents have provided structure for their own benefit, and have meddled with a sport where the sailor experience can't always be measured?

The Publisher

May 30, 2011, 4:47 PM

Post #11 of 12 (26080 views)
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From Chris Boome, San Francisco:
Andrew made a lot of good points in his article about how to keep junior sailors "in the fold". Since I am 64 years old, I did not grow up in the "coaches for kids" generation of sailors, but I was lucky enough to grow up at a wonderful place for sailing small boats, the Palo Alto Yacht Club, at the south end of San Francisco Bay. The PAYC has long since met it's demise because there was a snail that apparently could not withsatnd dredging the harbor again so now this beautiful family sailing venue is just a big pile of mud.

When we were kids, the "racing" boat was an El Toro, certainly not a performance boat, but as Andrew points out, the boat does not matter (as long as they are all the same). The most important ingredient to the extremely successful program was the fact that the kids had a lot of fun and also became friends outside of sailing, so they wanted to keep coming back. The competitive juices will surface in most any group of 10-14 year old kids, without much pushing from adults. As I look back on it, the key ingredient that allowed these friendships to flourish was the tremendous amount of time and effort put forth by club members, both parents and non-parents. The parents were always there keeping an eye on us from afar, making sure that we were OK and coming up with all sorts of things we could do to keep moving along in our sailing.

We would be so excited to sail on the "big" boats: Super Satellites, Day Sailors and the ultimate: 505's. Somehow our parents agreed to let us sail our El Toros across the bay to Mowry slough so we could camp out and sail back the next day (I now realize they must not have slept that night). They also let us take the club launch (an old converted life boat) a couple miles down the bay to camp out at Mt. View slough (right where Google is today)....all this when we were 13-14-15 years old! When we started going to other venues such as the SBYRA Match Race and the Sears Cup, certain club members would step up to the plate to mentor us like Larry Niswander and Ken Eugene. These names probably don't mean a lot to the general sailing public, even here in the Bay Area, but these people and many others helped shape the lives of many youngsters. I like to say that I "built" my first OK Dinghy back in the 60's, but in reality, one of our club members, Dr. Stangeland took pity on my incompetence and built my first OK Dinghy in his garage and he let me help just enough to make me feel like I actually built the boat myself.

A lot of very good sailors came out of the Palo Alto Yacht Club Junior program and I know there are a lot of great programs throughout the country, but I feel pretty confident that the most successful ones, the ones that produce people who continue on in sailing throughout their lives are driven by the time and dedication of club members and parents who are trying to pass along their love of the sport. I suppose that when people get too busy, passing some of this along to a paid coach (who I hope and assume has these same goals) is a good alternate solution, but the best still starts with the family. I know this can be hard, in my own family I have not taken enough time to fully pass along the "sailing genes"...but, there is still time, right?


May 31, 2011, 7:19 AM

Post #12 of 12 (25957 views)
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Andrew Campbell notes the failure of junior sailors to convert to adult sailing at any level of the sport.
He suggests
The missing component seems to be the lack of exposure to classes of boats with older sailors.
Andrew and others should study the Hobie 16 catamaran class and racing program.. The Hobie 16 Class has been a program where adults and their kids go racing at several levels for the past 45 years. There are no junior only catamaran… There are no Yacht Club Junior Programs. There are no Yacht Clubs (for the most part). Nevertheless, countless families have assembled at a public beach with a Hobie 16 and voila… a great regatta materialized. Young sailors crew for Mom or Dad and eventually get a beater of their own… and ultimately they get Dad’s boat. Family oriented has been Hobie’s niche since the beginning of the class. The nature of the boat wants crews around 315 … AND it’s wet wild and athletic!
Unfortunately, I can’t make the argument that this strategy works particularly well at converting juniors into lifelong sailors. The mulitihull classes are not chock full of 20, 30, or 40 somethings who have stayed with the sport or got back into it after a break. There is something about owning you own boat, at the proper age that is an essential piece. Bottom line for Andrew Campbell, Integration with adult sailing is not a panacea.
My view, what is needed are junior programs that emphasize much more variety in sailing. Exposure to the many different experiences, including being separated from your parents is a vital element. When you couple these varied experiences with skill development and the ability to continually learn about good seamanship and diverse sailing skills you have a good chance that young sailors become boat owners as they grow. Hobie kids enjoy the experience but without access to the variety of sailing experiences in the rest of the sailing world… they melt away just like Yacht club kids … with just a few hooked on sailing.
What YC’s have done that is unique is build a high intensity junior racing program…. Last season the region scheduled three One day Junior regattas during July followed by the USSA Junior Olympic Festival. 5 days of racing in a week?! Talk about over testing the ability to turn left! The pursuit of excellence or mastery in sailing a 420 (opti or laser) in junior sailing must be tempered... (how many 420 college crews feel that they safely charter a 25 footer for the weekend?) I suspect that had I tried to only ride my bike competitively when I was 14 and gotten scored at it 3 times a week for 8 weeks…. I might not want to ride a bike as an adult…. Been there… done that… been sized up and measured….who needs this again for my leisure time!
We should probably turn down the focus on junior racing and focus all kids on a broader range of sailing skills geared towards independence and confidence on the water. Put the racing program as a follow up and then elite racing programs (29ner, catamaran, i420) beyond this level.

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