Turn and face the strange ch-ch-changes

Published on August 5th, 2019

Keith Burhans

Change happens so gradually that it often goes unrecognized, as does the consequence of this change. Keith Burhans, a 2000 Paralympian for USA and past Commodore of the Rochester Yacht Club in New York, reflects on these changes:

I’ve had the honor of racing at a high level as an amateur, and I’m not sure that the professional creep is helping to grow the sport and is more likely hurting it. The equipment is expensive enough without a personnel arms race too.

I’m not sure that developing foiling boats that require the use of life jackets and helmets are growing the sport. Most of the people I’ve sailed with over the years get white knuckled and overly anxious on a crowded starting line doing 6-7 knots in a 15 knot breeze.

I’m not sure that the windward-leeward course races that have evolved are useful in growing the sport. Racing Soling’s in my youth we did a lot of Gold Cup courses that included close reaches before the windward-leeward sausage and sailors learned how to sail a close reach. That is a lost art in today’s racing skill sets.

Perhaps the biggest disconnect for youth sailing today is our pathetic ‘nanny state’. These kids can’t take a boat and just go out and sail for pleasure. In today’s world the sheep must always have a shepherd. The parents today have societal pressure to always know where there kids are, who they are with, and who is watching over them.

Back in the ‘good ole days’ (when I was fifteen), my parents would let me catch a ride across the lake to Toronto for the weekend so I could do foredeck on an 8mR. If I couldn’t find a boat ride, they would drive me to Niagara Falls, ONT so I could catch the train.

We also owned our Blue Jays and could sail them any time we wanted (except when the program was using them). Today in my part of the world, programs own the boats – not families. That is the big difference.

The ‘nanny state’ genie is out of the bottle and is never going back into it.


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