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Growing the sport...one invitation at a time
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The Publisher
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Jan 2, 2012, 7:51 AM

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By Chris Caswell, SAILING Magazine

I’ve been following the efforts of various groups to foster interest in sailing and, while I certainly applaud and support their efforts, I wonder if what we really need are more sailors who are willing to say, “Hey, wanna go sailing?”

After all, sailing is what the marketing people would label an “equipment-intensive sport”. Without a boat, you’re nowhere. It’s not like sports such as basketball or football where a few bucks will get you on the playing field. Youngsters in the ghettos may be able to parlay a well-worn basketball into a scholarship, and kids from the coal mining towns are able to turn their brawn into tickets to the majors, but sailing has always been controlled by those who own the boats.

As a youngster, I was fortunate enough to have a father who had been a sailor from his youth, and I was racing dinghies long before I could drive a car. But, like those kids from the barrios and steel towns, I wanted to break into the “majors” and sail big boats. On weekends, I used to hang around the docks, shagging docklines for returning ocean racers and talking eagerly to the crews, all in the hopes of hearing the golden “Hey, kid, wanna go sailing?”.

But today, our boats are protected by yacht club walls or hidden in gate-keyed marinas, so the opportunities have dwindled for newcomers to participate. And that simply has to change. Let me tell you about a couple of incidents so you’ll see how you might be able to help with that change.

My first crewing slot on anything bigger than a Snipe came through the kindness of a man who was basically uneducated and who belonged to that class once derogatorily called “blue collar workers”. But he did have a Six-Meter that he cherished, and Charlie also understood about the dreams of youngsters. When that first invitation, that “wanna go sailing?” was offered, I was ecstatic. My position was nothing particularly demanding (setting the running backstays on each tack) and it didn’t draw on what I considered to be my extensive knowledge of racing tactics (no one asked me anything), but I was part of a crew! The entire time, I was treated as an equal, although they had the wisdom not to offer a teenager one of their beers between races and, when we returned to the dock, I was taken to the club as part of the team.

It wasn’t until years later when I realized that Charlie had bumped one of his many regular crew to give me my shot at the “majors”. He was handing something back to the sport that meant so much to him. And the mere fact that I had sailed aboard his boat even once added immensely to my sailing resumé, and it wasn’t long before I was in demand on a variety of ocean racers.

Another example of giving something back to the sport took place many years ago at a Star World Championship. The great Swedish sailor Pelle Petterson held a very narrow lead going into the last day of the regatta, and tensions were running predictably high. All the Stars were in the water waiting for a tow to the starting area, when a junior sailor stopped at Petterson’s boat, obviously screwing up his courage to say something. After a few moments, Petterson broke the ice by grinning at the youngster, whose question spilled out about some piece of rigging. This was long before we knew that athletes must “center” themselves before competition, but that was obviously what Petterson had been doing before his big race, yet he promptly invited the youngster to step aboard his Star.

Stunned, the kid’s face wreathed into a huge grin as Petterson pointed out what all the various lines controlled. I strolled past 20 minutes later and Petterson was still talking, his soft Swedish accent going on about sail shapes, mast bend, and vangs. Enraptured, the youngster had obviously found a new hero and, I have to admit, so had I. Petterson had taken that one extra step to give something back to his sport and might even have started a future Star champion on a new course.

Perhaps, considering the cost of sailing today, it’s hard to think in terms of owing something to the sport. After all, you plunked down your hard earned coin to buy the boat, you spend more money than you want your spouse or banker to know in maintenance, and here’s someone talking about “owing” something to the sport?

But think back. Sometime, someone gave you a hand, showed you a kindness, opened a door. And for that generosity, you need to pass the torch along to a new generation of sailors.

Over nearly four decades, my memory has filled with the people who have given me breaks, starting with my father who crewed with such patience for a mercilessly demanding son that I realize now what a bond we have had for so many years. There was Charlie with his Six-Meter, who treated me as an equal and made me part of the crew. George with the 50-footer, who actually gave me a key to his boat, and Ed, who took a youngster on an 1800-mile ocean race. There are many others and occasionally I think about them, especially at the end of the sailing season when the halyards are tapping a lonely tune in a chilly marina. George and Charlie are long gone, as are many of the others, but I’m almost sure I can hear them saying that now it’s my turn to do the giving.

It is almost embarrassingly easy to find your targets: they’re standing next to you at a cocktail party looking at your faded boatshoes, they’re a fellow worker studying the photograph of your boat on your desk, or you’ll glance up from scrubbing your deck to find them simply staring longingly at your boat.

Go on, now it’s your turn. Say it.

“Hey, wanna go sailing?”




pdwarren
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Jan 2, 2012, 8:25 PM

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For whatever it's worth, I started "giving back" to my sport 30 years ago by becoming a sailing instructor. Over the years, I've taught CEOs and housewives and all manner of persons in between. It's been VERY rewarding to me, as I've gained some lifelong friends and associates - and even my WIFE - as a result.

I encourage any sailor who wants to feel they're helping to grow our sport to become an instructor ... even if it's just taking the neighbor kid for his/her first sail.

Paul Warren


The Publisher
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Jan 3, 2012, 10:51 AM

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By Reynald Neron:

Chris Caswell's states that (I quote) "sailing is an equipment-intensive sport. Without a boat, you're nowhere"

I think you will agree with me that on a yacht with 10 crew, I would guess than 8 or 9 of them don't own that yacht.

So that would mean that between 80 and 90% of the sailors don't own a yacht. So that stereotype is not correct...

Then he states that he got into sailing because his family was involved. Indeed we can agree that often, where you grow up dictates what you do... If you are born in Vail, Colorado, you go skiing. If you are from Canada, you put some ice skates on. If you come from San Diego, you go sailing (I am not sure what people from Oklahoma do).

Well, I grew up on a land which is flat as an ironing board, does get as much snow as Miami, and does not have a lake. Yet I was involved in competitive skiing for most of my youth, and I am now making a living out of sailing (and I still don't own a yacht).

Chris says that without a boat, you go nowhere... well, I am travelling the world... am born in Europe, but I live and call Sydney (Australia) home. I raced in all the Australian offshore races, including the Sydney - Hobart Yacht race (and when the editor of Scuttlebutt or a guest writer tell you it is the most fantastic show to watch, they don't exaggerate). I raced across the Atlantic, I was rescued in the North Sea. I worked all over Europe, in the US, in Mexico, in the Caribbean... Plenty of other places on my list.... I trained a racing crew in the UK prior to their start in a round the world race... I have skippered an America's Cup Class yacht, I have skippered a luxury sailing yacht worth millions (and I have been unemployed and looking for work more often than I dare say...)

And please allow me to remind you: I don't own a boat and I don't come from a sea going family. I started like most in sailing... walking the docks, chatting up boat owners... (and a pack of beer under my arm). At some stage, I was managing a race yacht on Sydney Harbour. We were always taking on newbies at the CYCA's bar before the races. First because with 3 or 4 outings every week, all year round, it is difficult to get crew who can give that much time. Building a pool of crew allowed us to ensure we could go sailing everytime the owner wanted to. Another reason we kept picking up new people on the dock is because I remembered that is how I started. On this point I agree with Chris: nothing better than to invite a novice on a yacht. Wanna go sailing mate?

My point is as follow:
- I believe the biggest challenge we face when encouraging people to get into sailing is stereotype.
- To write that you need a yacht to get into sailing is not helping the cause.
- To write that you must come from a sea going family is not helping.

I am sure that among Scuttlebutt readers, most are not boat owners. but most are passionate. All you need to enjoy sailing is passion.


The Publisher
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Jan 3, 2012, 10:55 AM

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In Reply To
By Reynald Neron:

Chris Caswell's states that (I quote) "sailing is an equipment-intensive sport. Without a boat, you're nowhere"

I think you will agree with me that on a yacht with 10 crew, I would guess than 8 or 9 of them don't own that yacht.

So that would mean that between 80 and 90% of the sailors don't own a yacht. So that stereotype is not correct...


Chris notes that without a boat you are "nowhere" without the help of others that have a boat. For me, it was a reminder to boat owners that they can accomplish great things by saying... "Hey, wanna go sailing?"


The Publisher
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Jan 3, 2012, 1:16 PM

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From Jan Visser:
I do agree that it is hard for some kids to get the opportunity to sail/compete, however, for the past 20 + years I have had, as you might say, the keys to the kingdom.

For 15 years I had my own organization and many a time I have encountered a wistful looking child peering out at Opti's, Lasers, Lido's or 420's on our little bay. Being the talkative sort, I always managed to ask if the child had interest. Well, that was usually the dumbest question I could ask; just the look on the face told it all, but it gave me a foot in the door. So many times over the years kids could not afford it, dad or mom was between jobs, I would simply hand my business card to the parent and tell them what time class started each Monday and to be there, no questions, just be there.

After moving my boats to the local yacht club due to marina reconstruction, and until they take me out in a body bag or fire me (how do you fire unpaid volunteers?) I can still do it; the opportunities are just as plentiful to let that youngster blossom. I am not wealthy by any stretch, single mom raised 2 youngsters, one went on to become a two time National Champ.

There are several organizations/clubs within 100 miles that have their own silent way of bringing kids in to their programs and yes, encourage competition and boat use is always available. You would be surprised how much a youngster, bitten by the competition bug, can dream up ways to earn the funds for their very own boat. Our local dinghy dealer is also extremely helpful in this endeavor. So dreams do live on in some parts of the country and probably more around the country than some folks realize.


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Jan 4, 2012, 10:00 AM

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From Lucia Nebel White, 88 year old Star Boat sailor:
I was very touched by the article that Chris Caswell wrote for Sailing Magazine "Growing the Sport", reprinted in Scuttlebutt 3497.

It reminded me of the time when I took a young boy, age 12, to Cape Cod with us, and I taught him how to sail. His parents were having a divorce at the time, and my husband said "Let's take him with us - he is having a rough time."

He became a good sailor and later on bought a 50 foot Cutter. He asked me to come on the boat and go through the Panama Canal with him and his wife. They had sailed the boat down from Sausalito, Ca to Balboa, Panama City - and were going through the Canal and heading east.

I was so excited to be asked because my father, who was the sculptor, had made the bronze Placque in the Gaillard Cut, and I had never been through the canal to see it in place!

This young man also named his boat for me - and gave back to me two fold for teaching him to sail.


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Jan 5, 2012, 7:16 AM

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From Peter Commette:
Chris Caswell, in Scuttlebutt 3497, stirs passions, as good writers do. However, I disagree. Our sport still is filled at every level with those older sailors who say, "Hey, wanna go sailing?"

The tradition Chris believes challenged for more has plenty and is thriving, from old and washed up sailors contributing to our youth programs with time, money, and/or sail-alongs, to older gods doing the same (Bill Koch, Gary Jobson, Augie Diaz, Tom Lihan), to our sport's gods in their prime (Russell Coutts, James Spithill, Ed Baird, Anna Tunnicliffe-Funk, Brad Funk), to top youths helping the even younger ones (Williford brothers, Mac Agnese, Wade Waddell, Luke Lawrence), to various sailboat classes (Melges-32's, Snipes, Lightnings, Scows).

Meanwhile, there is a strong trend for yacht clubs to open their youth programs to non-member children; yacht club walls are not holding youth development back. Chris, don't be so curmudgeonly.


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Jan 5, 2012, 7:17 AM

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In Reply To
From Peter Commette:
Chris Caswell, in Scuttlebutt 3497, stirs passions, as good writers do. However, I disagree. Our sport still is filled at every level with those older sailors who say, "Hey, wanna go sailing?"

The tradition Chris believes challenged for more has plenty and is thriving, from old and washed up sailors contributing to our youth programs with time, money, and/or sail-alongs, to older gods doing the same (Bill Koch, Gary Jobson, Augie Diaz, Tom Lihan), to our sport's gods in their prime (Russell Coutts, James Spithill, Ed Baird, Anna Tunnicliffe-Funk, Brad Funk), to top youths helping the even younger ones (Williford brothers, Mac Agnese, Wade Waddell, Luke Lawrence), to various sailboat classes (Melges-32's, Snipes, Lightnings, Scows).

Meanwhile, there is a strong trend for yacht clubs to open their youth programs to non-member children; yacht club walls are not holding youth development back. Chris, don't be so curmudgeonly.



Peter hails from Lauderdale Yacht Club in south Florida, a club that appears to be doing well due to the examples he mentions above.

- Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt


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