Apr 24, 2012, 1:29 PM
Post #1 of 3
If sailing is anything, it's varied. Few sports have as many shapes and sizes. And it is constantly changing, which comes with consequences. But as long as people are enjoying the sport, all is good, right?
Evolution of the sport
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An email from John McNeill, Staff Commodore of the St Francis Yacht Club, triggered the following exchange with Scuttlebutt editor Craig Leweck....
JOHN MCNEILL: There is lots of talk of sailing not growing, of kids not racing, or kids not staying in the sport after college. Recently while out on the water to watch the San Francisco Cup, the 45th annual Match Race between the St. Francis YC and San Francisco YC, we also were able to watch the Nor Cal High School Championships with 39 teams racing, and the Team StFYC Team Race Scrimmage, which had 10 J-22's on the water, each with 4 crew, many in their 20's and 30's. Something for everyone!
I don't get the sense, here at least, that the sport is fading, but rather that each group has its own way of participating, and its own cycle of doing so. Perhaps the way of encouraging more activity, is to just provide the opportunities and let them find them. It seems to be working at this club (StFYC), but then, there are probably not many clubs that are running Match Race, Team Race and Fleet Race events all on the same weekend! Might be worth a try, and they do not need to be graded events.
CRAIG LEWECK: I think you hit the nail on the head. As long as equipment is provided, people can remain engaged. But isn't that a problem too? Can every club afford to support its members in this fashion? I wonder if this isn't the result of how the level of support that clubs provide youth sailors has steadily grown over the past few decades. When people are used to being supported, doesn't it become harder for them to be self-sufficient?
JOHN: Actually, Craig, that supply comes with a fee of course, which is more an incentive to ownership than any recapture of costs, but the underlying issue is one often missed - the youth are generally not yet capitalists, in that they often can handle cash flow issues but cannot produce lumps of cash needed to own a boat or, most often, join a club (initiation fees).
The trick may be to make that capital requirement less of an impediment during the cash-flow years. Some clubs have successfully reduced or ramped out initiation fees, and in every case I've seen, those who have developed club fleets (with fees) have seen a strong appeal to new young members in the 25-40 range. When you run the numbers, those memberships over a few years are a lot more valuable to the club than the boats.
CRAIG: And that all makes sense. I guess what I wonder about is what the cause for this solution was. Is the increasing level of support provided by clubs to young sailors causing them to continue this reliance into their adult years? And while equipment supported sailing is doing well, one design classes have suffered along the way. Maybe this is simply the evolution of the sport.
JOHN: The discovery that there are loads of young sailors settling in communities who really would like to continue, but assume that it is impossible due to the costs. What was really revealing was when we realized that they didn't necessarily come from our own junior program, but from others around the country and world.
As for young adults continuing their reliance on Club supplied, that is a wait and see question, but it doesn't take many years of membership for it to pay off - especially when they bring along their friends. And most often those who start with the club fleet soon move forward to crewing on other boats, or partnerships. It is merely a matter of whetting the established appetite, I think.
As for the lack of growth in one design classes, I wonder if the one-design classes of the 20th century era may have actually been the anomaly, rather than the other way round. In my day, there were few choices, as the number of builders of production boats was limited, so you had strong classes. Earlier, many boats were locally produced custom variations of a certain style. Today production boats are the norm, and the range is vast. Interesting evolution. Next phase.....???