Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Sailing: Reports of Its Death Are Exaggerated

During the month of August, I was involved in several doom and gloom conversations about the decline of dinghy sailing in the summer circles that I inhabit and travel. Apparently, some club racing, and even some regatta racing, is slipping or completely falling apart. In spite of national events having been very well attended, the evidence of some local decline is at least anecdotally convincing.

But wait! My time this summer has been spent almost exclusively in local sailing, with embarrassingly little travel to major regattas, and I’m not sailing in a world of doom and gloom. My local laser fleet has been growing steadily, with the participants having fun and improving their sailing. No complaints there.
And now, with the high school sailing season started, I am in the middle of an explosion of youth interest in sailing. For the first time in our team history, we have to turn kids away because we just can’t accommodate 37 sailors with only 12 double handed boats. Unlike previous years, every freshman who makes the team will have had previous sailing experience. I registered our team for a fall regatta two hours after the NOR went out by email, and I was the eleventh team. All of the fall regattas will be oversubscribed and will have waiting lists.

So what’s going on? Certainly, my experience is too narrow to make broad generalizations. My internet research (browsing is a more accurate term) found plenty of people who make variably documented proclamations of doom, and some offer some remedies to stem the tide. A new book is coming out in October, Saving Sailing by Nicholas D. Hayes. According to the marketers, “The book is educational and inspiring in many ways; the reader is not only drawn into the stories but learns how they might rethink their own priorities and short time on earth with a simple but rich philosophy for living.” Seems he is after folks who let their lives get in the way of their sailing. I hope this helps some people find their way into or back into sailing.

I can’t figure it all out. Sailing is dying and thriving at the same time. I don’t mean to make light of those who are worried about the health of the sport. I think they should do whatever they can to improve participation, but I’m fortunate that sailing is doing just fine in my world. I like to think that what I’m doing and what those around me are doing are contributing to that health. We try to be enthusiasts for our local fleet and for the class of boats we sail. We try to harness as many resources as we can to provide boats, sails, parts, books and videos for those who express interest. We share what we know about sailing our class of boat and gain knowledge from others who are sailing the boat. We try to create opportunities for newcomers to participate and learn. While we enjoy our competitions, we strive equally hard to keep things interesting and fun. It all seems pretty straightforward.

I find that enthusiasm for sailing is viral, but in a good way. It is spread by person to person contact, and a few carriers go a long way. When enthusiasts spawn other enthusiasts, fleets can grow very quickly, and the world of sailing is just fine, thank you.


  1. Hello. Nick Hayes, author of Saving Sailing here.

    Congratulations on what sounds like a great program. My daughters and I are active in a large and growing laser fleet in Milwaukee, WI. Great fun.

    And I agree, enthusiasm for sailing is a key ingredient to making and sharing the fun.

    Given what you're suggesting here, I think you'll probably like the message of the book. The publisher has three Advance Review Copies left. If you would be kind enough to read and review it on your blog, I'll request one to be sent right away. If you are interested, email me at nickhayes@savingsailing.com.

  2. My gosh, at least eight of those kids have their life jackets on and are ready to go. A lot of them in the back row have theirs on too.

    That is where you wil be growing the Laser fleet. My Blog howtosailthelaser.blogspot.com has several days of looking at fleet building.

  3. Great article! I'm having the same experience ... we had 290 kids in the junior sailing camps over the summer and now that high School sailing has started we had 26 kids at our first practice! We started this team last fall and had 8 kids, that grew to 18 in the spring and now 26 one year later.

    Sailing is growing where sailors work at making it grow!

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Hey Apparent Wind. Send address to publisher@savingsailing.com. Will ship last ARC for your comments and review.