Discussing the long-term future of sailing

Published on April 28th, 2021

When the Club 420 Class got legs in the 1980s, it was at a time when various boats were used by youth sailors across the USA. The Club 420 was a derivative of the popular International 420 but with a hull reinforced for durability, and a stiff, untapered mast. The boat was simple to sail, and provided a universal next step for pram sailors.

The Club 420 has been a massive success, with its age-based rules giving young sailors a social climate they can enjoy through their teen years. It has also provided a continuous track through High School and College competition. With many clubs buying boats for their programs, the Club 420 has been the dominant class for the youth years.

But its success has also made it a target, as the promotion of the Club 420 at the expense of other sailing opportunities has put into question what is being served to secure the future of the sport. Are kids getting a broad enough experience to continue in sailing beyond their youth years? If they don’t like the Club 420, are there other choices to keep them in sailing?

Addressing the topic is this commentary from Club 420 Class officers John Morgan (President) and Ernest “Bub” Kovacs (Vice President):

We couldn’t agree more that the sailing community across the USA is super varied and it will take leadership at the Club, Community, Association and National levels to attract and keep youth sailors involved to grow the breadth of our sport.

However, we take exception with some of the narrative that we need to move sailors out of traditional designs and into more high performance boats.

This will certainly be true for some sailors who have the financial backing, travel capability, and access to high caliber coaching, and the Club 420 Association applauds them for expanding their horizons.

There are many reasons that the Club 420 continues to have traction in youth sailing.

Over 4,000 active boats are in use by individuals, families, clubs, High School, community sailing, and other programs. This includes a large inventory of used boats that hold their value while continuing to be competitive even after a decade or more of use. This allows new sailors and their families to get into the class and on the water at an affordable price. Not an easy feat in our sport.

There is a robust competition schedule at the local, regional, national, and North American level that support the tactics and skills learned in smaller and very competitive big fleet events (100+ boats). Additionally, Club/Community/High School Sailing programs that have large fleets of Club 420s that serve dual purposes and allow those who cannot commit to purchasing a boat to sail, race, and enjoy the sport, again at a minimal cost.

To kick off the 2021 sailing season, the Club 420 class held its Mid-Winter Championship at the US Sailing Center Martin County where 200 sailors enjoyed returning to the waters. The Class has committed to an aggressive summer schedule under the COVID restrictions imposed by the various states and localities. The North American, National, and New England Championships, along with the CJ Buckley Team Race, all sold out in 12 minutes or less! Each event is hoping to allow all those on the extensive wait lists to be added into the racing fleets as COVID restrictions ease.

Clearly interest in large fleet competitive sailing and team racing is not dying from our perspective. We invite anyone who would like to truly understand the magic of this class to attend one of our large regattas. There you will see a large competitive fleet, with a very diverse group of young men and women who are having just a whole lot of fun!

The Club 420 continues to be a popular boat because of access, affordability, strong local fleets, competitive events and a community that develops young sailors and their families before, between and after racing.

This class encourages its sailors to experiment with other classes of boats of all sizes. They should try sailing in a variety of boats across ages and venues. They should even consider sailing with no racing involved…just for fun. If we continue a narrative of either one boat or another, the long-term future for our sport will be bleak.

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