Reducing barriers for sailing

Published on November 12th, 2014

RJ Wolney is the chairman of the Bayview Yacht Club Sailing Council in Detroit, MI. Here he shares what BYC is doing to grow sailing…

Tell us about the council…

The Bayview Sailing Council has representation from all forms for how you can be engaged with the sport and get out on the water. That’s literally everything from junior sailing to PHRF boats to one design to even recreational sailing. Our intent is to create a path for somebody that comes into the club with a passing thought that they had interest in the sport. We want to take that thought and be able efficiently get them involved, be that junior sailing, getting them out on a big boat, whatever the case may be. We want to have a platform that can take a person from that first day of engagement in the sport all the way through to getting full immersed, in whatever direction that person wants to go.

What has been working for Bayview?

We have a unique asset here at Bayview with the club boat program, where the Ultimate 20s gives us the ability to have an adult learn-to-sail program. This fleet also allows us to have dynamic events that you can be part of without having to be a boat owner, which is just a big step for somebody to make. Ideally we want to see the opportunity to get engaged in the sport of sailing with as few barriers to entry as possible.

And the club boat program reduces barriers…

Boat ownership can be a very expensive endeavor, generally speaking. And sailing on other people’s boats has gotten more difficult by virtue of boats simply getting smaller. That means there’s fewer crew spots on any one boat.

Plus, as the boats have gotten smaller, those marginal spots have been removed. Those were the easy spots to let somebody just jump on a boat and start to get a feel for it. There’s a much smaller margin for error when going out on a 40 foot PHRF boat than when going on a J70 or a Melges 24 or something like that.

That’s why club boat program is very, very important. Our curriculum and program development needs to train somebody to be able to step out on one of those smaller boats more confidently. They need to be able to communicate to that boat owner their level of competency before they even get out there. We need to keep removing barriers for people to feel comfortable and for people to enjoy the sport.

What else is the council looking at?

The demands on time just continue to pull people in a bunch of different directions. So figuring about how to create programs or events that make effective use of people’s time, so people feel as though they can commit that time to an event. I see more and more unique format events, like match racing and team racing, and one design sailing continues to be very popular. But again, it’s happening in smaller and smaller boats, which is fine if you can figure how to get out on one. I think the younger generation may find the point to point races to be a little bit less interesting, so we need to make sure the overall event schedule is meeting people’s preferences.

So the council is the purveyor of good sense?

There’s a bunch of sailing activity going on here, and we are trying to get everybody coordinated and marching with the common vision and goal. We also want to avoid burning off volunteers. Because volunteer resources are kind of a limiting agent when you have a volunteer base core.

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