For most races in the country, a yacht club is the organizing authority. … As a host, the yacht club provides the venue and facilities for the regatta, and may or may not the responsible for the duties of the organizing authority. When it is not the organizing authority, it usually provides the facilities, the equipment, and the race committee to conduct the racing to the organizing authority…… - US Sailing Race Management Handbook (9).
Yet, as I was driving home from an informal meeting where sailors were organizing spring laser sailing, it occurred to me there was no yacht club involved - and no organizing authority either! A bunch of sailors had decided it would be fun to race lasers together and had gotten together (starting last fall) to figure out how to make that work for the most people. Doesn’t sound like the US Sailing version of organizing racing, does it?
And as I thought about it some more, it seemed I could rattle off many examples of regional laser sailing happening outside the auspices of yacht clubs.
- Duxbury spring and fall series – self organized using Duxbury Bay Maritime School facilities
- Winthrop Frostbiting at Cottage Park Yacht Club – where virtually no winter sailors (lasers or interclubs) are members of the club but there is a symbiotic relationship between the groups (maybe good customers at the club bar)
- Newport Frostbiting – self organized fleet using Sail Newport facilities
- Sail Salem is a public sailing organization promoting a laser fleet
- New England Masters Regatta is run from a public beach with help from sail Newport and other individuals
- Frostbiting and summer sailing in Bristol – self organized, but using yacht club facilities (especially the bar) in the winter, and no connection to any yacht clubs in the summer
- Saltmarsh Regatta is run from New Bedford Community Boating – is there a yacht club involved? Does Community Boating take the lead in organizing, or are the facilities just “borrowed?”
There may be more.
In my limited experience, this seems to be unique to lasers, at least to the degree to which it seems to be happening. Why is the relationship between yacht clubs and laser sailing any different than between yacht clubs the sailing of other boats? What’s up with laser sailors, or the boats, or the yacht clubs?
Some solid hypotheses:
- Simplicity of boats. The boats are very portable and mobile. They are light and easy to car top or trailer, usually by only one person. They are quick and easy to set up and launch. They are self rescuing and therefore need little or no rescue support (depending on conditions of course). It only takes one person do decide to go sailing. However, this is all true for Sunfish too.
- Simplicity of race management. With less need for rescue support, fewer people are needed to run a race. In local racing, the races don’t need to be long. A starting line, windward mark, and a leeward mark make a fine racecourse. One person can do it. Some fleets eliminate the starter altogether and do rabbit starts.
- Out of season racing. A lot of laser sailing is frostbiting or spring and fall extensions of the yacht club summer season. Clubs are closed or barely interested in the off season. Those with bars have more interest.
- Sailor enthusiasm. In addition to sailing when others have put their boats away and sought indoor warmth and comfort, laser sailors seem willing to travel long distances (100 miles or more- wow!) for a day of sailing. They sacrifice convenience to find good competition. They also seem to self-organize as needed to immediately satisfy their sailing habits, rather than depending on others (including slower moving yacht clubs) for help.
Other more speculative and perhaps cynical explanations involving potential character flaws in both laser sailors and yacht clubs:
- Laser sailors have less need for boat storage and therefore don’t have compulsory ties to yacht clubs.
- Saying you are a yacht club member says little about your interests in sailing. Calling oneself a laser sailor is a meaningful description. Laser sailors have a stronger allegiance to the class than to a club they may belong to.
- Some yacht clubs may historically not have had enough laser sailors as members to establish a critical mass within the club to satisfy laser sailors.
- Laser sailing is growing in popularity faster than yacht clubs can organize to keep up.
- While yacht clubs continue to support some of their long standing fleets in spite of diminishing numbers they don’t appear interested in hosting and supporting newly self organized laser sailing. Laser sailors don’t seem to have enough clout at clubs to get them interested.
- Laser sailors can be independent and self indulgent to the point of not tolerating certain yacht club organizational sluggishness. They seem to lack the patience required to work with the staid traditions of yacht club organization and would prefer to “just do it”.
I love that laser sailors are self organizers. It’s good for the sport, good for the organizers, and good for their fellow sailors. Sailing should be supported and promoted in every way it can, inside yacht clubs, in public sailing organizations, and in independent sailing without organizations. Isn’t that the whole idea?