Promoting sailing for pure pleasure

Published on November 6th, 2019

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt Sailing News
When it comes to sailboat racing, I do like winning over losing. I look at the rules, seek to control the variables, maximize any advantages, and then play the game. If I have an opportunity to win, I play to win.

But winning has gotten harder. Equipment improvements – better line, better sails, better instruments – raise the investment for speed. Regatta formats have evolved, requiring more training. There are reasons why the sport has shrunk.

Winning prominent championships has always been hard. It should be, but some now require massive commitment. As everybody keeps pushing the bar upwards, fewer can reach it… so they stop. The sport offers many ways to maximize the advantages.

This trend now impacts US Sailing which hosts a variety of National Championships for their membership. These events, in my opinion, offer the recreational sailor that opportunity to meet other like-minded enthusiasts from around the country for some level competition.

You earn an invitation through resume or regional qualifier, ensuring a high level of skill. But it was also a show-up event with limited training on hosted boats. The main advantage needed to win the event was the skill of the crew.

And that is where these events are going sideways as qualified skippers recruit elite crew and pay them accordingly. These events – in my opinion – are at risk of drifting away from their intention. For an organization rooted in supporting and growing the sport, the open event rules are putting the pinch on the recreational sailor.

I’ve been pounded at the US Youth Champs, and medaled at the Team Race Nationals and Championship of Champions, and I’ve equally liked how they bring together people from all corners of the country, mixing it up on a level field.

But times have changes, so I am revisiting a past rant for how US Sailing needs to modify the eligibility rules for their national championships, restricting participation to unpaid sailors. Examples of the contrary are growing, and if these events are to inspire interest, that is not what the influence of paid sailors does well.

The sport is proving hard to harness, but event format is powerful, and I would like to see this platform of national championships protected for people that sail for pure pleasure, thus allowing the winner to well represent the historic trophies they are seeking to win.

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