Look before you leap
Published on January 18th, 2024
Don Finkle with RCR Yachts offers the following reality check:
There will always be racing at the top end of the sport; those who are most serious and are able to devote the time and resources to compete at a high level. There is no growth here, and the participants are mostly the same people, although they may move between classes to follow the competition.
The pros do the same thing, they go where the jobs are and right now the J/70 and Melges 24 fleets are littered with them. You enter these events to test yourself, not to garner trophies. You need to be able to park your ego, because it will get bruised.
There are some classes where the sailors don’t jump around, they are like families that stay together for years. The Lightning, J/22, and J/24 come to mind, where some people have raced in the same class for decades. There are certainly plenty of others.
However, by far the greatest percentage of sailors do not travel or play in the most competitive fleets or events. They enjoy racing in other ways and can have just as much fun doing so.
I am reminded of the U.S. Presidential campaign decades ago where the candidate kept reminding himself, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Those of us who organize sailing events would do well to realize, “It’s the fun, stupid.”
With so many other opportunities and distractions and obligations, which only seem to grow each year, if it isn’t fun, you won’t do it. Whose responsibility is it to see that you have fun sailing? We submit that it is partly on you, and partly on the program. An interesting program attracts, and if you have the right mindset, you can enjoy it.
As for racing format, what seems to be losing steam these days is running the same races in the same fashion. This tends to lead to the same pecking order with predicable results. New ideas give new hope to people—maybe they will do better—and at least the change can be interesting.
We see this starting to take root. At our home club, Youngstown Yacht Club (Youngstown, NY), we are trying the Youngstown Chase in place of a fifty-year history of course racing on the same weekend. The Chase is a series of feeder and pursuit racing, with plenty of shore side fun mixed in.
The Buffalo Harbor Sailing Club (Buffalo, NY) has long been an inclusive outfit not afraid to try new things to grow participation.
They have a well-established women’s weeknight program to go along with regular racing and regattas. They also have the King of the Lake (they may have been better off not to have a gender-specific name), which is an interesting idea—a race that you run on your own time, then submit the timed results. BHSC also runs a Champion of Champions race, where the prior-year’s winners of a series or regatta can all compete against each other.
These are just a few examples of something different to try and spice things up. There are also mixed-gender events, junior, women’s, charity regattas, around an island, shorthanded and other ideas. We would be interested in hearing about different things your club or fleet has tried: email@example.com