Sailing is Badly Broken

Published on February 5th, 2017

Bill Canfield may hail from Saint Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but there is nothing small about his position in the sport. His involvement extends far beyond the Caribbean, and he has been taking note of what he is seeing. Here he shares his observations…


Bill Canfield

I have spent the past 50 years thoroughly enjoying the sport of sailing as a competitor, volunteer, regatta organizer and race official. I’m an active member of three yacht clubs and look forward to a full summer of events. However, I recently sat back and looked at my sport through critical eyes and came up with the following conclusion. Sailing is Badly Broken!

A few things to consider:
• Handicap racing is a confusing mishmash of letters using a lot of R’s and C’s such as IRC, ORC, ORC CLUB, ORR, and the un-administered (nationally) PHRF. Who knows what it all means?

• Between the expense of coaches and travel for Junior Sailing, and the cost of exotic sail material on keelboats, families can no longer afford to race the family yacht outside their home club.

• Twenty years ago, Miami and Key West were the center of the universe for sailing, and now our only annual Race Week event can’t draw 100 boats.

• The America’s Cup boats are battery powered toys without the need for any traditional sailing skills or sailors to compete. Absolutely no positive trickle down.

• With the advent of catamarans, Match Racing is now speed driven without the tactics and strategy that had made it totally unique and pure.

• High School and College sailing are thriving but will soon be endangered by the push for expensive coaching and equipment to satisfy an unexplained need to win Olympic Medals in European driven classes.

• US boat building is nonexistent right now and no class appears to be growing. If you wanted a new boat what would you buy?

• To top it off, most of the young professional sailors that drive the sport today have never really had an opportunity to enjoy the best part of our sport. The days of simply getting on a boat and sailing to a weekend regatta, having a few beers and a simple meal with friends, have now been replaced with plane tickets, hotel reservations, crew dinners, etc. Too bad!

People keep telling me it is cyclical and it will come back. I have my doubts.

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