Visit Pensacola

COMMENTARY: Sailing needs to better defend its turf

Published on May 7th, 2013

The sky might not be falling, but it has changed color. The sport of sailing has not been immune to the societal changes, though there is a contingent of passionate sailors that wish the sport would put up more of a fight to defend itself. Here Paul Tara from Santa Cruz, CA argues against these changes…

In Scuttlebutt 3832, Lydia Jewell had the courage to write what most of us have already been thinking. And, I would be willing to bet her daughter Lynne, who along with Allison Jolly won the first womens’ Gold in 470’s at Pussan in ’88, would agree.

Most people may not remember that a factor in their gold medal victory was their skill in effecting a heavy air repair while their competition succumbed.

So why didn’t the US win a single sailing medal last year at Weymouth? Because, if we tried, we couldn’t have concocted a more effective recipe for the decline of sailing in the U.S. in general, let alone at the Olympic level.

Here is what we have done:

1. Weaken the generational link. Never mind all that accumulated knowledge, emphasize drop-off youth programs taught in youth-only boats. Promote professional coaching which focuses solely on winning, at the expense of teaching personal responsibility, seamanship, and sportsmanship. Concentrate on quantity not quality; a sailor coached is a fee paid.

2. Break the sailor-to-boat connection. Flood the market with mass-produced, program-owned boats, and concentrate on rotational formats, thus insuring that most young sailors never learn to respect, much less be responsible for a boat. We’ve gone from “Atzuma” boat to “It ain’t my boat”.

3. Alienate the grass roots. Encourage national and international governing bodies whose primary focus is on revenue and elite high-profile events (like the Olympics).

4. Mix all three into a financially heated, toxic goo, and force feed.

In science, almost all great discoveries come from general research. Specialized research seldom yields the results hoped for. Yet, what we’ve done with sailing in the U.S. is exactly that.

We’ve become so medal obsessed; we’ve almost forgotten what the sport is about. Consequently, our youth programs are narrowly focused, inbred, and over-coached, with little emphasis on the basics: self sufficiency, personal responsibility, and seamanship. There are young sailors out there who have these traits but many, because they haven’t followed the anointed path, are off the radar. The tragedy of US Sailing today is we don’t know, or care, who they are; there’s no money in it.

As for the Olympic format, here’s a clear message to US Sailing and ISAF: Lotsa Luck! Remaking sailing into a spectator sport is the tail wagging the dog. We schmucks, who constitute the bulk of your potential audience, are a lot more worried about our next tack than who wins a medal or the next pro event. You should stop prostituting sailing, and if the IOC can’t respect the sport for what it is, they should drop it from the Games.

comment banner


Back to Top ↑

Get Your Sailing News Fix!

Your download by email.

  • Hidden
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

We’ll keep your information safe.