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We have met the enemy and it is us

Published on March 25th, 2015

by Don Finkle, RCR Yachts
I was lying in bed anticipating the start of the sailing season and thinking what a great sport we have. If that is the case, why do so many sailors drop out? Among various reasons two immediately come to mind.

First, racing has become too serious and technical. It is more difficult than ever for novices to jump in and be competitive, even if they have the best equipment (but that helps). I flip back to when we were winning a lot of races in the 1970s and 80s and we never touched the rig. The shrouds got pinned and taped in the spring and stayed that way for the whole season; and if the rig was left up over the winter they weren’t changed for years. Now we check and tune the rig before every race.

What happened over that period? More influence from the pros in the industry, especially sailmakers, whose businesses are impacted by their success. The proliferation of young sailors who come from the college sailing ranks where they have had so much time on the water with top flight coaching and training. The availability of training materials, seminars, coaching and mentoring for sailors of all ages.

Not to be overlooked is the attitude that successful people bring to sailing from other aspects of their lives. Those who are very aggressive and accomplished in business, for example, bring that same drive to their sailboat racing. Finally the culture here in North America where we are always pushing to get ahead.

What this has all done is increase the gap between those who are serious and those who are much less so. Eventually those who are out for the fun of it, and do not want to invest so much time and energy, begin to see less reward. Then they find something else to do with their precious free time.

The next reason we have in mind is an over-emphasis on winning and results. Again this is prevalent throughout our culture, where we tend to glorify people who are very good at things. Winning is everything and losing is nothing.

Before computers, the internet, social media and the like, results were much harder to come by and not such a focus except in the largest events. Those who win don’t mind seeing their name in lights, but those lower on the scoresheet may not be so wild about it. When I look at regatta results, my interest is in knowing who was there as much as how they did, but that doesn’t make tail-end Charlie feel any better.

Before you get the idea that I am pessimistic about the future of sailing I should say that I am not. The above issues are solvable if we care to address them. We as sailors created the current situation and if we care to invest some effort we can reverse course.

The industry needs to realize that we had better focus more on making sailing FUN again. The best sailors, pro or amateur, need to understand that how they interact with the rest of the fleet has much to do with the health of that fleet. I learned a long time ago that sailors do not mind losing to someone they truly like and respect, especially those who make an effort to relate to them.

Put another way, the onus is on the more accomplished sailors to help others and to do what they can to see that the novices are enjoying themselves. Rank has its privileges but also its responsibilities.

My personal focus this year is going to be on doing what I can to inject more fun for everyone in any racing we are involved in, either as a competitor or organizer. I did not say we aren’t going to try to do our best or to stop learning, because learning and teaching can be fun. In fact one potential salvation is in encouraging people to learn and get better, which in turn will increase their skills and therefore their performance and enjoyment. But it can’t be a situation where they feel they have to go to school or practice endlessly in order to go racing on Wednesday night.

And if you are one of the fortunate ones who finishes in the top of the fleet, we encourage you to consider the others you race against and how you might keep them in the fold.

Source: RCR Yachts

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