Junior Sailing or Junior Racing?

Published on July 29th, 2015

by Don Finkle, RCR Yachts
I have been thinking about this one for a while and it may come across as negative, but that is not my intent. Those who work with juniors to teach sailing are all well intentioned and have the kids interest at heart but I believe we may be missing some key points. I invite you to tell me where I am all wet but maybe some good will come out of the discussion.

My observations are that mostly what we teach kids to do these days is race, or the skills necessary to race. There is no question that young people who graduate from junior sailing programs these days are much better racing sailors than we were as kids at the same age. But we may not be creating passionate lifelong sailors, and I can tell you from personal experience that they are not all learning the broader skills needed to be competent all around sailors.

They become very good at sailing dinghies, roll tacking, boat handling, close quarters maneuvering, starting, etc. However, believe it or not, many don’t even know that you wrap the line around a winch clockwise. Their broader sailing skills that include anchoring, docking, line handling, taking care of the boat, etc. are often lacking. Adults do much of the work for them so they are not learning how to take care of or fix boats either.

When we were kids (I can hear the groans now), we did most of our sailing on our own, no supervision, nobody ever helped us rig, launch, fix, or do almost anything to our little boats; we did it all ourselves. What adults did teach us though was some very important etiquette and proper procedures in the yachting tradition.

For example, you do not cross through the cockpit of another boat tied next to you unless invited to do so; you walked forward of the mast. If you are going to tie to another boat you would have your fenders rigged, lines ready, and ask permission to come along side. You don’t walk over someone else’s boat with filthy shoes, you don’t leave you boat unless it is properly secured, etc. The list goes on. From watching young people today, it does not appear that they were ever taught any of these things. Not their fault because these things need to be passed down from other generations.

Another issue we see is the emphasis on racing most likely turns off those who are less serious or less successful. Not everyone is going to be a good racing sailor, but if that is the only object of the game, why would they stick it out? People are social animals; most of us enjoy being with others.

One or two person dinghies may not be the most attractive to the less competitive kids. It seems to me that more time spent in a variety of boats may be better for the majority of kids than a steady diet of Optis and Club 420s. Let them sail in J/22s, Sonars, J/70s, Lightnings, and also bigger PHRF boats. That will give them more exposure to different types of sailing and they may find the size and type of boat that best suits their personalities.

Don’t get me wrong… the best way to understand sailing is by learning in small boats. However, once one has the basic idea down, it is possible that unless you have the chance to try different types of boats and different types of sailing, you may lose interest. Kids these days are used to having many choices and some variety in sailing seems to be more conducive to building a long term love for the sport.

Spend time on big boats, spend time going to other ports, give them a taste of high performance sailing, sport boats, multihulls, etc. Maybe more time during sailing school for games and such other than only race drills. It would also help young people if they sailed with older sailors some of the time. Multiple generations on a boat is a good thing. The kids bring enthusiasm and energy, while the older folks bring experience and knowledge.

Of course we are dealing in generalities here and not every sailing school is guilty of an overemphasis on racing, or a lack of variety. But I will bet that there are opportunities to attract and keep more kids if we broadened our view of what we are teaching a bit.

Source: RCR Yachts News

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