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Stadium Sailing: Redefining Sailboat Racing

Published on November 16th, 2016

Sailmaking professional and Grosse Point Yacht Club Sailing Director Wally Cross shares his plan for changing the way we view the sport of sailing…


Wally Cross

Benjamin Klatzka and I have been discussing this concept of sailing in front of Yacht Clubs now for two years. His business is the PSL or Premier Sailing League. His goal is to provide boats around the country in specific yachting venues, and create live entertainment in a near-stadium environment that has never been realized for the sport. The goal is to have regional yacht club challenges and eventually crown a national champion.

This past September we decided to try a stadium sailing concept event at the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. We had ten J/70’s from the Detroit area divided into four divisions, with my goal to have a four hour schedule with a total of 18 races. Each team sailed during half the schedule to complete their nine races, splitting time on the water with time ashore spectating. On the dock we had a grill and bar set up for spectators and participants.

With so many demands on our time with family, work and competing sports, it is my belief that our passion for any sport can only be justified for a shorter period of time than what it takes to do the conventional sailboat race.

I always thought 18 holes of golf would be the maximum time we could set aside for a sport, yet even with that four to five hour time frame, golf is struggling with participation due the various aspects it takes to play. It is interesting to note how golf has many of the same participation challenges that sailing has with travel time, actual play time, and the cost involved.

Stadium sailing is set up to be a four hour experience yet participate for half that time. Importantly, this stadium style event creates a far better ratio of actual racing time to your total hours invested, versus the normal sailboat racing day if sailing from your home yacht club or if on the road for a travel event. That is one of the key goals – to maximize actual racing time relative to the entire time devoted to this sailing pursuit.

The sailors are the actors on the water and then the ambassadors on land. We will ask all participants to mix in with the audience to explain what is happening on the water, so there is a natural synergy that will evolve with all there is to both sail and spectate. This will naturally help grow the sport, which should be a byproduct of this stadium event and thereby foster more participation for a sport that has been challenged to grow.

We will have a couple boats miked and a commentator on land.

To sail the 18 races, each race has to be between 11 and 13 minutes. There is no down time and practicing is not allowed. Once the first flight completes the three races, the next group has to be ready to go without any gap in time, thus helping to maximize the actual race time for the sailors.

The course has three movable buoys which control a windward-leeward course. The start, finish and leeward gate are all the same. The race is four legs and each leg is less than four minutes. The starting sequence is a 3-minute control box on shore and a judge for the line in a RIB with hailer. We also follow the boats and whistle any fouls. The penalty is a 360-degree turn or a last place finish for that race.

This style of sailing will place a premium on quick tactical decisions and boat handling skill and will aid in more rapid improvement in the participants. They will face many more, but similar situations than in the normal one, two or three race day of a traditional sailing event taking an entire day. The goal is to make the racing quick, easy and decisive so you provide near immediate gratification for all competitors and virtually continuous action for the spectators.

In order to run 18 races in four hours, the marks have to move a lot. The wind speed and direction will directly affect the time so the marks have to adjust. Based on the first lap time the windward mark will increase or decrease in distance.

To facilitate mark movement, we are working with a buoy manufacturer that is looking to produce a motorized mark that will be controlled with a smart phone. The mark will lock into a GPS setting unless changed. On top of each buoy will be a Go-Pro style video camera that will wirelessly transmit images back to the sailing center. We will have one person adjusting the course constantly for wind direction and speed to keep the time close to 11 minutes and true to the wind.

We have plans for three events next summer with each event concluding with awards but at the end of the three event series we will have a grand prize that will be awarded to the top three overall finishers. All the awards will be items the sailors can use to improve their performance.

Stadium Sailing at Grosse Pointe Yacht Club 2017

May 20 – Also Great Lakes Boating Festival
June 24 – Also Great Lake USODA Optimist Regatta
September 16 – Grand Championship Finals

It is my plan to sell sponsor signs on the moving marks, along the sailing wall, on our new sailing center and on the asymmetrical spinnakers. As this concept takes off, it will become easier to secure sponsorship as spectator attendance will grow.

The sponsors will get VIP treatment for seating and food/beverage. The Grosse Pointe Yacht Club is building a new sailing center for next spring that will allow many to watch the racing from a balcony and we also plan to bring in bleachers for better viewing.

Sponsorship for Stadium Sailing will be important. The sailors and the racing are entertaining the audience. The cost of the event and the awards need to come from sponsorship financial contributions and not from the sailors. Sponsors can have:
• VIP seating on bleachers or balcony
• Signage on boats, sails, buoys and potentially on the sailor’s jerseys
• Signs on sailing building
• Flags
• Banners
• Awards

Why Stadium Sailing?
• Nonstop action for 4 hours; no half time or time outs
• Close viewing of boats for spectators while they enjoy food and beverages
• Listen to the action from the boat while the event is commentated
• View the leader board and talk to the competitors
• A race every 11-12 minutes
• Identify with the teams (all teams will wear jerseys for image)
• Great socializing and people watching at the GPYC or the selected venue
• Video of the sailing action on the score board from the moving buoys
• On the water judging; one turn penalty

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