Growing Sailing – Are You ‘Listening’ or ‘Doing?’

Published on October 21st, 2013

By Glenn McCarthy
It was in a Facebook post last month, which reacted to the 2013 America’s Cup Rule 69 hearing outcome against Oracle Team USA, when Clarence Yoshikane answered with:

“I smile from afar because, in my opinion, it’s the politics, protests and drama that I don’t miss (now that I don’t sail anymore). I love sailing, racing and the camaraderie; but for myself and many of my contemporaries, it’s not fun or worth the time anymore.”

Hasn’t he walked away at the time of certified race management and judges? Isn’t he walking away when race courses have been perfected with mark-set boats moving marks continuously to make race courses square to the wind? Isn’t he walking away when Notices of Race and Sailing Instructions have been groomed with absolutely clear editing? Why isn’t all of this “management” creating fun for him?

Are you listening to him (and tons of others who have left sailing)? Or, are you doing the next step and revamping your racing at your club to bring back the fun and shenanigans?

Where’s your story? What fun have you added to your racing in 2013? We need examples and we need them now. We need to hear the plans for 2014 on how you’ll plan the party first and the races second. Come on, brag a little!

I have been reporting Clarence’s “message” for 20 months now. Even though I just met him, I have heard the same story from many people. But seeing his opinion in print really drove it home for me and hopefully does for you, too. We’re no longer working on making sailing fun. We’re working on running “perfect” races and having food and beverage afterwards. “Ho-hum,” is the reaction of today’s sailors.

Clarence sailed Etchells, Lido 14’s, Cal 20’s, TP52’s and SC70’s. He raced for 30 years and quit 3 years ago. Clarence is the poster child for many who walked away from racing. Without fun, people are heading off to other adventures. I caught up with him as he was supporting a paddling competition with Hawaiian-type canoes with outriggers. He is having fun there.

While talking to Chicagoan Tim Doran recently, he said he felt the fun of big boat racing had worn off. He continues to make special appearances from time to time on big boats, but shifted over to scow racing, where he found fun again (at least he stayed in sailboat racing). He gushed as he told about the 89-boat E Scow Nationals just held at Lake Geneva Yacht Club in Wisconsin.

Doran also told of a 1970’s story where a competitor came to Belmont Harbor Saturday morning and saw his boat on the mooring. The boat was listing 20-degrees to starboard. “Oh-my-God!” The worst went through the owner’s head, fearing his boat was going down. When he got out to his boat, he found that there were many cinder blocks stacked on his deck on the starboard side – just a little fun prank! It had the place roaring and is a story told 30 years later that has me laughing.

I keep trying to implore that the growth of sailing comes through the creative social activities, where the “races” are just a given. This spring, I was invited to help write the Notice of Race for a region championship. At the meeting, I offered to the Fleet Captain how important the social schedule is. He countered that only the races are important to him and how important it is that the races are perfectly run. Ugh, the Olympic/ISAF/US Sailing model of declining participation has taken control of leadership!

What happened? The only thing distributed to the sailors in the region two-and-a half months before the event was the Notice of Race. “There will be races spread over 3 days.” The given. There was no other message about what would occur at the event. Ho-hum. This event has had upwards of 30 boats in its heyday; last year it had 11. This year there were nine boats. No one knew that there was an appealing social schedule and they weren’t expecting anything.

We first learned at the Skipper’s Meeting that the Championship included a Friday party (that night) at a sailor’s home with steaks so thick that they must have come from a Siamese Cow, plenty of libations, and good times. Saturday had a cookout at the club, buffet style, but they didn’t tell us at the Skipper’s Meeting that it included a live dance band. No one knew there would be a band until the band walked through the door and started setting up Saturday night.

There were sponsors, not announced, providing give-aways of a bottle of Mount Gay rum for daily firsts, a $500 Gift Certificate to a clothing store for the overall winner, and T-Shirts for all competitors. Breakfast was provided one morning and lunches on two days. But none of this was advertised, none of it was known before coming. It was all a surprise only learned by being there.

How does one measure the value of the entry fee and travel in order to decide to make the trip? Clearly, the organizer put on a spectacular event. Their efforts are highly appreciated. They did a lot of work to make all of it happen, but they admitted they were disappointed at the turnout. Do you think if they advertised the parties, give-aways, and awards and then let people know there were races that more boats might have attended?

It’s another example of the need to work on your parties first, advertise the parties repeatedly from the outset (include your social plans with the Notice of Race) and let people know that some fun awaits them. I, too, wished there was a greater turnout. I like events with 30 boats at them and the inherent social event attendee growth that comes with them: spouses, significant others, kids, friends. That makes for GREAT regatta memories!

Source: Lake Michigan Sail Racing Federation, October 2013 newsletter

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