Harken Derm

Cause and Effect: Ten Years Later

Published on June 27th, 2016

While the increased organization of age-based youth sailing has increased participation, it has impacted the flow of young people into one design and handicap racing fleets. Rather than sit on their hands, the Lightning class launched its boat grant program to attract sailors aged 19 years and older.

Each year, the class awards at least two young teams with boats, mentoring, and expense support to expose them to the class and competition. Past Lightning Class president Debbie Probst provides this report on the program…


The success of the Lightning Class Boat Grant Program has been measured in the number of former Grant recipients who have purchased boats (nine) and the continued involvement of many others. However, the program which will recognize its 10 year Anniversary with a Reunion at the North American Championships Aug 11-19 at the Rochester Yacht Club, has had farther reaching effects.

As the first generation Boat Grant teams reach their 30s, we see them becoming actively involved in Class activity, enticing their friends to purchase boats and producing future Lightning sailors (babies!). Fleet and District Level Boat Grant programs have been launched as an offshoot of the Boat Grant Program.

The Buffalo Canoe Club is in its 7th year of their local Boat Grant program, and Bay City Yacht Club and Metedeconk River Yacht Club have both recently launched similar programs. The Sheboygan Club Fleet has at least five boats that are routinely made available to juniors and young adults. These programs are not unique to the aforementioned fleets, if you want to sail a Lightning, chances are there are people in your local fleet that will help make it happen!

The trickle-down effect of these programs is highlighted by the huge turnout of younger sailors at several recent District Championships. The Lake Erie District Championship reported only two people over 40 in the top 5 boats (15 people), three in their 30s and the remainder well younger than 30. Throughout the entire fleet, there were approximately 30 juniors (under 21) and a huge mass in their 20s/early 30s.

This increased youth activity can also be seen internationally as we will fill the regatta capacity at 20 teams from 9 countries at the Lightning Youth World Championships this July in Ecuador.

Having these younger sailors (juniors, 20- and 30-somethings) on the race course has been positive for all ages. Through clinics, casual conversations and on-course sparring the level of the game has increased for all. The juniors are becoming quite good as they spar with past Olympians, Rolex Yachtswomen, World Champions and All-Americans. Not only are they creating a life-long bond with the sport and the Lightning, they are learning from the best.

If you are interested in participating at a Lightning event, check the Class website, contact a regatta chairman through the regatta calendar and find a ride! If you would specifically like to join the fun at the North Americans, there are a few teams still looking for crew. We guarantee it will be a good time, regardless of your age.

If you are interested in the Boat Grant program, contact Matty Schon at mschon3@gmail.com or learn about the program here.

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