Nothing Black and White About It

Published on August 10th, 2015

In his monthly column for WindCheck magazine, Joe Cooper ponders the question of cost in sailing. Here is an excerpt…

Value in sailing terms is an interesting concept. The ‘value’ we all get from it is intangible. It is neigh on impossible to put a dollar amount on the sunsets, beautiful days, a week at Block Island Race Week with your mates, landfall in Bermuda and so on that make up a pretty normal round of sailing adventures. Or frankly, the emotions we experience looking at a particular boat that moves us.

What if you added up all the costs of Race Week and said that cash cost was the value of competing? But that seems to be a fairly rigorous and cold green eyeshade way to look at what sailing gives us. Obviously, there are things in life that have value beyond the cash. Our families, kids and love spring to mind. (In fact, to me my family is priceless.)

I have often remarked on the subject of the cost of sailing, and only slightly in jest that boat owners ought never to total the yearly costs of owning their boats and divide this amount by the hours spent actually using them. If you did, you’d be appalled at the cost per hour that owning a sailboat incurs.

I have a vague memory of doing this in 1980 for “Australia” team in the America’s Cup, and it was perhaps $150 an hour (actually sailing), and that was with a volunteer crew paid ten bucks a day all found. I think Larry Ellison’s costs per hour are a wee bit higher.

That this dictum – NOT calculating the cost per hour of sailing on your own boat – is being challenged is apparent by the creeping establishment of sailing opportunities that do not require actually owning the boat. Many sailing schools have programs where once you are certified (in the sailing sense, that is…) you can continue to sail by renting their boats.

Sail Newport has a pretty thriving business in doing this with their fleet of J/22s. After a brief checkout sail with an instructor, one can rent their boats in three-hour increments (today’s version of “a three-hour tour…”). Ida Lewis Yacht Club has, in summer, a similar scheme using Sail Newport boats one afternoon a week.

I have a mate who is succumbing to age and the financial obligations of owning a boat. When I suggested the Sail Newport option, he wondered how much a membership is…twenty-five bucks for over 65, I found out on my phone. During the week you can, as a member, rent a J/22 for 75 bucks for three hours. This is not quite rental car rates, but close. Yet we generally do not get the same psychic enjoyment from a car rental as from sailing. OK, a week in a Ferrari on the cornice in Monaco may be an exception.

But unless you’re going somewhere to sail: Cowes Week, the BVI or the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race and are chartering a boat for the event, the actual sailing (time) seems to be only some portion of the value. Then this means there are other elements to the value of sailing. In the case of Block Island Race Week, it’s the camaraderie, the dinners, the parties, The Tent, catching up with old mates, meeting new ones, and of course the Yellow Kittens for the young’uns.

Complete column here.

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