Reflections from the President

Published on May 14th, 2014

by Tom Hubbell, President of US Sailing
For years, my sailing activities consisted of 95% racing, usually with my wife, Pat, and our friend, Punch. But that changed one evening, after a full day of racing. During the social hour I saw that my friend Charlie’s boat was still rigged. I asked and he replied that it was just too nice an evening to put the boat away and he was looking for someone to go for a sail. I accepted and the next hour changed my perspective forever.

Charlie had been the Thistle Class President and National Champion. He was an icon. Time stood still as we sailed his Thistle on our little lake as twilight approached. We missed the regatta dinner but we solved the world’s problems and shared family stories.

I’m still racing – three regattas and 16 races so far this year. But that day Charlie rekindled my awareness and enjoyment so that I can also make time to just go sailing for an hour, or an evening, or a day. I wish I had learned this when the kids were still small.

I have enjoyed reading the sailing commentary lately promoting the adventure, the recreation, the pure fun, and the idea of not pushing new sailors so much into the competitive side of the sport. Nevin Sayre speaks to the issue enthusiastically in his presentation from our Sailing Leadership Forum in February.

A number of creative sailing educators and entrepreneurs have long been aware of the reality that most sailors enjoy the sport without racing but as an adventure, an escape, a lifestyle, or simply open sailing. And they know that many very active racing sailors also relish adventures on the water with no scorekeeping. I’m one of those. Most of us are not just one kind of sailor.

A 2003 McKinsey study about the sport kindled our restructuring and the beginning of our new approach to recreational sailing. Since then, US Sailing has been looking for ways to support the work of instructors and the play of folks whose focus is the enjoyment of going sailing. It’s a fact that pure enjoyment of wind and water is the glue that binds all sailors. Community sailing programs and sailing clubs succeed when they create sailing activities that build collegiality of their sailing community, more so than working to define the hierarchy of competitive prowess. It comes down to helping build a community of sailors.

Through US Sailing, we’re providing forums and seminars for networking and sharing best practices to support local sailing organizations (Sailing Leadership Forum, National and Regional Sailing Symposiums.). A recurring theme at those sessions is that we must share our enthusiasm about boats without prematurely pushing a racing agenda.

We’re providing training programs at multiple levels, offered at many places that bring sailors together to raise their skills, while improving safety and seamanship (Safety at Sea, Bareboat Cruising, Safety, Rescue & Support Boat Handling, etc.).

We have a fabulous means to connect young people to the water. The Reach program is a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education pathway for teaching science and math using the maritime experience as a platform. And there is much more that US Sailing offers for individual sailors through local sailing programs.

I believe we are also fostering an inclusive culture that celebrates the incredible variety of ways that sailing can be enjoyed. There is no “one best way.” It’s up to all of us to find ways to support each other’s time on the water. As we do that, we can share the magical experience with youth, young adults, and anyone who enjoys being outside.

It is a challenge for US Sailing to address the needs of this incredibly broad-spectrum of our sport. If you have ideas or comments about supporting or promoting adventure sailing or recreational sailing, please send me a note. The future of sailing in the U.S. depends on our achievements in growing the sport, for the recreational sailor as well as the racing sailor.

See you on the water!

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