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Cost of equipment is a problem

Published on August 2nd, 2023

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt Sailing News
While one design classes control cost to varying degrees, there is near no control in handicap racing. When I wrote The State of the Sport in 2020, the cost of equipment was one of the issues I highlighted as impacting participation:

“When we look at sails, cordage, electronics, hardware, everything has contributed to an increase in performance, but an increase in cost too. At some point people walk away for an alternative recreation, and for those that pull out the credit card to buy the better sailing stuff, they are all even again, having about the same amount of fun, but for more money.”

Don Finkle with RCR Yachts shares a similar observation from a recent regatta in Youngstown, NY:

“Sailboat racing is often blamed for being too expensive. Yes, it can be, but it doesn’t always have to be. Looking at the fleet at the CanAm this past weekend, we see numerous boats that are between 20-40 years old, including many of the winners.

“These boats can be purchased quite inexpensively. Some have been rebuilt by the owners and updated to keep them competitive, but the point is you can find a fleet where you can play the game at reasonable cost.

“The boats themselves are a bargain in many cases, but the exception is the cost of sails. This is where the sport has failed us a bit. By pushing the technology all the time, the sails have become faster and faster, and a new carbon race sail is a gorgeous thing to behold.

“Unfortunately, the cost of new sails is more than it should be because we really don’t need that level of technology to go sailing… unless the other guy has it. If we want sailing to grow, this should be one area to be looked at.”

Rating rule systems – PHRF, ORC, IRC, etc. – provide that opportunity for dissimilar boats to compete on the same course, and each system relies on fees to remain active. While it is in their interest to maximize participation, grasping that role is not a strength.

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