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Yacht racing struggling? I think not!

Published on June 27th, 2019

by Howard Paul
I have heard and read a lot of talk about how yacht racing is dying. A lot of that most assuredly comes from the demise of some iconic regattas. Key West Race Week comes to mind. We hear a lot about the big races with the professional crews and the multi-million dollar programs. We hear about the big fleets, like the J70s where many have pros onboard.

Don’t get me wrong … I’m not against professional sailors, and while maybe the high end of yacht racing is struggling, I’m here to say the grass roots regattas are thriving!

Over a hundred boats showed up at the 62nd Annual Governor’s Cup (June 15-16) at Kerr Lake, NC. The regatta was sponsored by Carolina Sailing Club with a certified PRO. Races were run on two courses for the 12 classes. Many of the boats were from venerable classes like the Thistles, Flying Scots, Buccaneers, and Lasers (see results).

No big budget programs. No fancy trophies. No big yacht club for an awards banquet. There was a fried chicken dinner held in a public building enjoyed by the 150+ sailors. Some were locals, some camped at Kerr Lake, and some stayed at nearby motels. Judging by the enthusiasm at the awards ceremony there will be a 63rd Annual Governor’s Cup.

So I ask …where is our leadership? Those that claim to speak for our sport, is it because it’s not the Olympics or a high end regatta? How come the only press is about the big regattas? US Sailing mandates that clubs running regattas have to be member clubs. How come they aren’t out front spreading the word? They certainly have access to these clubs’ schedules.

US sailing is not alone in failing to promote our sport. The magazines promote the big races without ever mentioning our grass roots regattas. I understand they are there to sell advertising to the larger companies with advertising dollars, but isn’t it in their best interest to grow our sport? After all, today’s beginning sailor might be tomorrow’s rock star …or dare I say a big program owner in the future.

Aren’t regattas like the Governor’s Cup where we all started? My first sailboat race was on a 24-foot Rainbow out of a small club in the suburbs of Chicago. This was the beginning of 50 years of sailing in the Midwest, on both coasts, and the Caribbean. The point is sailing needs to be a sport that is inclusive and offer opportunities to sail and experience what so many of us love.

How do we grow our sport without promoting these grass root regattas where a beginner can participate? It all starts at the local level. US Sailing has to do more. The press have to help get the word out. Above all, we the sailors need to get the word out and share the love we have for our sport. It’s up to everyone to build the sport we love.

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