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Sailing needs to be rethought

Published on June 29th, 2022

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt Sailing News
I don’t know when it started, but US Sailing has been permitting private coaching at their US Youth Sailing Championships. I was surprised at this, as it added cost and complexity, and seemingly hindered self-reliance for young people.

US Sailing also hires and provides fleet coaches to support what allegedly are the best youth sailors in the country. The 2022 event was being held in my town, and I could see long tows of boats coming in from the ocean course at the end of the day.

Lots of support. Lots of powerboats. From the same course in which I had won championships without help. Does this produce better sailors, or just sailors that can’t care for themselves? And what about the environmental message being sent?

Before the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Brazil’s 5-time medalist Torben Grael sent me a video of all the RIBs in which he observed, “Is this Olympic Games or Coach Boat Regatta… amazing huh?”

His brother Lars, himself a 2-time medalist, shared an image of support boats by Jyrki Järvi and wonders out loud about the direction we have headed (translated from Portuguese):

This is the reality of the International Olympic sailing. Our sport driven by wind energy and enjoyed by ocean lovers and advocates (lakes, rivers and dams) has moved away from a de-carbonization agenda and plastic emission reduction goals as well as CO2 emission in the atmosphere.

The Olympic classes were once made up of boats and sailors who were self-sufficient to sail to the regatta and return from the seas. At the Atlanta 96 Olympics, coaches were still limited to watching the regattas from a distance, on the official yachts provided by the Games organization!

Even sporting modes that are polluting by definition, like Formula 1 Motorsports, have adopted rules that limit engine power, number of engines per season, and number of tires per race. F1 already has goals for converting explosive engines to electric engines, while sailing has become a fuel burning festival with its support boats and powerful engines.

Rules should limit how many sails per season, plus rules for recycling and disposal of used sails. Remember that sails are all made of plastic materials such as Dacron and Mylar (Polyester); Nylon (Polyamide); Kevlar (Aramid); Spectra (Polyethylene), plus Carbon Fiber. Some initiatives already exist for sail recycling in the making of covers, bags and backpacks, for example.

The Vendée Globe regatta (solo round the world and without stops) for example, has clear environmental rules. In addition to sailboats moving by the force of the wind in the sails, their batteries are charged by solar panels and hydro-generators to power all its systems. All of this is to prevent the burning of diesel oil by a generator, because diesel is pollutant, and weighs on the performance of the vessel.

The sport of sailing needs to be rethought and get back on the agenda of reducing global warming.

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