It’s Not the Sailing, It’s the People

Published on October 30th, 2016

Joe Cline, Editor of 48° North, provides this editorial in the October issue on how it’s the people that make sailing a great sport….

Whether it’s on a boat, at the yacht club bar over a beer, or in the pages of this fine publication, if you’ve encountered me waxing philosophical about sailing there’s a good chance this isn’t the first time you’ve heard me say:

“I love sailing more than anything else. But frankly, it could be bowling, it could be darts, it could be gardening… the activity almost doesn’t matter. If you love the people, that’s what will keep you coming back.”

This is reinforced for me around every turn, eddy, or wind shift. The people that make up our community have become some of my closest friends. I love to interact with these friends on the water.

Among many other examples, every week for the last few summers, I get to sail past a boat I used to race on that’s crewed by some of my best buds. When I holler hello in our port-starboard cross, I’m greeting a boat owner who didn’t really race before he and I decided to race together, an ambitious former college sailor who had been entirely too unplugged from the Seattle sailing scene, and one of my best friends from outside of sailing who has become as passionate about it as anyone. Let’s just say it makes my week. Every week.

The point of that little story, however, is not to toot anyone’s horn, especially not my own. I bring this up as a reminder that the friendships we make on boats last as long as any I’m aware of. And, though it’s hard to say which came first, they’re still sailing and we’re still close pals. More importantly, they’ve become such good friends, they wouldn’t dream of missing a Wednesday night; not because of the racing, but because of the camaraderie.

We’re wrapping up the sunny part of the sailing season here in the Pacific Northwest. While the temperatures fall, the breeze builds. Experienced sailors know, your non-sailing friends are about to stop asking you to take them sailing. But, don’t think for a second that the sailing season is over here. It never ends in the Pacific Northwest!

Nonetheless, autumn, and especially winter, sailing can have a solitary feel. And though it’s a perspective that’s unpopular to perpetuate in the eyes of those who sell sailing to newcomers, we all know that it isn’t always comfortable.

A friend who knows the open ocean well recently said to me, “We are privileged to suffer together.” So, as a believer in the relationships formed on boats, I think we have to bundle our friends up and continue to bring them sailing into the fall and winter.

I’m not a big fan of “saving sailing” literature, and I hope this doesn’t fall into this category. Sailing needs saving less than it needs re-branding. However, I feel more than ever that the number of people sailing is far fewer than the number of people who should be sailing. And unlike skiing, where the quality of the experience often decreases as the number of people sharing the same patch of snow increases, in sailing we get to have more fun as the participation numbers rise.

We already have a community of “keepers.” Nothing is going to change that. But, just because we keep coming back doesn’t mean it’s not important to expand our community. It’s not enough just to have open doors. We ought to turn on the tractor beam!

The sailing community belongs to all of us, even for those who don’t know it yet. In no time, you’ll be passing new friends port and starboard, yelling an excited hello, and feeling all the good feelings I so look forward to every Wednesday.

Editor’s note: Thanks to our friends at Antigua Sailing Week for the above image and to

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