Ronstan

Where Are We Now, Twenty Years Later?

Published on August 16th, 2018

It was 20 years ago when Google was founded, Titanic won 11 Academy Awards, Harrison Ford was People Magazine’s sexiest man alive, and US President Clinton was in the headlines for his affair with an intern.

This was also when Scuttlebutt published commentary by Peter Johnstone on one of our favorite subjects: Growing The Sport. Peter was born into the marine industry through J/Boats and has since touched nearly every segment during his career which now includes owning Alerion Yachts.

We share the op-ed again… how much of this remains relevant today?


First and foremost, you’ve got to ask aspiring sailors what appeals to them. It is pointless to ask most enthusiast sailors how to attract new people to the sport. Most enthusiasts will present a vision sharply warped by their own preference within sailing. Racing today is highly organized and well addressed. Racing can only grow if the base of the sport is grown. Here’s a few bullet points in the key categories that can contribute to our sport’s overall growth:

TELEVISION:
• Present televised racing in an understandable format. It’s easier to understand a drag race where positions are discernible. Get rid of legs where boats spread out in an incomprehensible way (upwind & downwind). Where possible, present adventure and human drama. Watching rich folk with associated politics and power plays is boring. Two boats are boring. Show real people doing real things. And show the world that there are more than two boats that actually race at one time. Fleets are exciting, even if they’re difficult to present. Look at NASCAR.

• Sailing TV does not have to be about racing. Fun stories or adventures are always captivating and inspiring. Look at the fishing shows on ESPN or TNN on Saturday morning. The relaxing activity and personalities captivate you. Examples of effective sailing TV: Whitbread, Grand Prix 18’s, Novak/Jobson in Patagonia, Coot Club, 49ers.

THE GOVERNING BODY (US SAILING):
• The curriculums need to take a lesson from marketing. Set the hook, before requiring a lot of work or money. First experiences should focus on instant gratification, then fill in the extensive knowledge needed to be a sailor.

• The training needs a distinct learning path that has nothing to do with racing. The curriculums are all well geared towards the yacht club experience. However, the vast majority of sailing is done off of beaches and out of marinas by people who have never aspired to race. There’s more Catalinas out there than there are US SAILING members. Ditto for a few other non-racing brands. Any program aimed at growing sailing, should reflect how most of sailing is conducted. We need to show every aspiring sailor ALL of the opportunities of sailing, not just racing. If we present 20 sailing activities, we’re going to keep a much greater percentage of those who try it.

• Junior sailing programs need to become more than just a feeder to high school and collegiate racing programs. We need to instill the skills and desire for a lifelong pursuit. Sailing’s 20 other activities beyond racing, need equal time to take hold. The know-how and fun of personal boat ownership needs to be conveyed. Before kids go off to high school and college, we have to have them hooked on a type of sailing for once schooling is done.

• Get the sailor handicap system going. Rate sailors by their accomplishments within the past two years.

• Encourage PHRF and one designs to not count the weight of kids under 18 years or spouses towards weight limits for events on a regional basis or lower.

YACHT CLUBS:
• When hiring instructional staff, hire sailors with diverse backgrounds in sailing to reflect the breadth of the sport. The collegiate types have raised the level of racing instruction to an impressive level. Everyone is great at teaching what they love. However, the background has a big impact on what is conveyed. Ditto with boat use. Put the kids into every type of sailboat available. The broader the experience, the better the sailors, and we’ll keep more kids sailing. The monotony of today’s programs drives the majority of kids away by their 15th birthday.

• Encourage fun family events with low skill requirements. Seattle’s Lake Union beer-can evening series with the raft-up afterwards is fun for everyone. A lap of the harbor with no spinnakers. Raft-up means everyone has fun at the social event. Ripe for stories. No one can drive off, and everyone gets to see everyone else’s boats.

• LeMans starts, rallies, crew rotation, treasure hunts, or anything new gets people to think about participating. The idea behind adults racing Frosties, Sabots or our Escape Cha Chas sounds ridiculous, but it is great fun and can become the backbone of new participation. And kids can beat the top adults due to weight advantage.

POLITICS:
• If Ted Turner runs for US President, every one of his sailing pals ought to pressure him into buying a maxi now, so that the world sees the one of the most visible people out sailing every free moment. It would be the single biggest sailing promotion since JFK off of Hyannis.

• Taxes and duties can be onerous on the sport. RI is tax free on boating and the boat business is thriving. Many small countries have duties and taxes from 15%-130%. It prevents sailing from becoming established in many many ideal countries.

THE SAILING MAGAZINES:
• They need to stop being so politically correct. Take a position. Rave about an outstanding boat, and call the less than great boats ‘less than great’. The evolution of product will speed up immensely. The magazines today are like Car & Driver and Road & Track in the ’70’s when they would not ‘call a spade a spade’ with the horrible American cars at the time. Put some passion into a monthly ‘position’. Get people talking and thinking. Challenge people to think about new issues, activities, or products in the sport.

• People do not like to improve themselves, so stop filling the mags with those ‘How-to’ articles. If people want info, they’ll turn to books, courses, and the internet. Fill the mags with new products (incent the industry), human drama, celebs puttering about in boats, and more photos. People will learn better through anecdotes than straight info.

• Embrace and convey diversity. Like the yacht clubs, the editorial staffs need diverse backgrounds in sailing and upbringing.

EVENTS:
• Cater to the whole family. Too many events simply put up a beer tent, run some perfect races and expect participation. Child care, and activities for non-sailing companions would draw much greater numbers to events and increase the promotional impact and reach. Kids would be pre-disposed to follow their parents as they age.

• After the 10,000th time, a windward leeward begins to get a little monotonous. Mix it up with a point to point race, or new course style.

INDUSTRY ASSOCIATIONS:
• Partner with similar industries (ski, surf, RV, outdoor) to cross-pollinate trade shows (not consumer shows).

• Grant co-op advertising support to those companies (charter, entry type boats of all sizes) that do actually spend real hard dollars promoting the sport outside of sailing circles.

• Put in place programs to attract new dealers and rental operations to the sport. The sailboat dealer and rental network is a tiny fraction of its peak. The lack of distribution and opportunity is one of sailing’s largest obstacles to growth.

MANUFACTURING COMPANIES:
• If a company is doing a great job, setting out to steal their lunch will not broaden the sport’s reach. If one segment is doing well, apply the lessons to another segment. The goal should be to revamp all levels of sailing on par with the accomplishments of other industries that have re-invented themselves. Look at Rollerblades, Bikes, etc.

• Most of us cannot sell to people just like ourselves. The world is not all wasps, or male, or with ample resources. To sell to different people, you have to find out what different people want. It may not be what we ultimately want to build.

• Women rule the world and make most buying decisions. Women do not like sailing around with their immediate world on its side, they like stable boats. They also like big bathrooms, ample kitchens, and comfortable accommodations. And they want to be able to handle whatever they sail. Simpler boats and systems help a lot. The needs are very clear, but innovation is needed to address these needs within the confines of reasonable cost and footprint. Recreational boats should be designed first for the needs of women.

• Costs and prices are completely out of control on most boats. Lower costs are a priority to broaden the sport. Volume cannot be built without lower prices. There are many marketing studies on the impact of price. It is not unusual to get double the volume for 20-30% less cost to the consumer. As a goal, I believe the manufacturers need to aim at reducing prices by at least 50% within the next 5 years. Other equipment based sports are way ahead of sailing on this.

• Sailing equipment is way too complicated to attract new sailors. Until we’re down to one or two control lines for the whole boat, it is too much. Major innovation is needed.

ALL OF US:
• A little respect for the other areas of sailing would be a good start. Too many folks are too quick to proclaim their favorite sailing activity as the best. Attacking another area of the sport does not serve the sport, as a whole, well.

• Go get some friends outside of sailing…and then take them sailing.

• Whenever you convey any info about sailing, put it into layman’s terms as a habit, so when you do speak to non-sailors, they might actually understand what you’re talking about.

• Commit to owning a boat that you’ll use regularly. That means YOU!

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