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how yachting killed sailing in the us

csabi

As a country, we have lost interest in sailing without lead – more descriptively we have lost interest in athletic sailing.  

Decades ago, in an effort to be more inclusive, the US Yacht Racing Association changed its name to the US Sailing.   Did that well-intentioned change contribute to the steep decline in our Olympic prospects as well the general destruction of American’s ability to sail without lead?  Since that name change, the sport has been reorganized in the US and adult athletic sailing has been largely eradicated.

Look at the evolution of sailing facilities and clubs.  I sail on Narragansett bay – which we would argue is one of the “sailing” capitols of the world.  And why not?  On any given weekend we find J-Class or 12 meter or Maxi or TP52’s doing windward-leewards on the bay.  Great events indeed.  But despite all these “sailors” and all these events, and over 2 dozen Yacht Clubs – there are exactly zero club or facilities on the Bay dedicated to adult athletic sailing.  

If you are 25 years old and want to sail a 49er or Nacra 17 – there are zero facilities for you.  You must keep the boat in your driveway and be a vagabond or tuck it in an unfriendly facility and sail alone.  Not so in Europe.  Not so in Australia.  Not so in China.  And certainly not so in New Zealand.

It’s not just that there are no athletic sailing facilities or fleets.  It’s how we train our “sailors.”  We keep our children locked in the least athletic dinghy ever designed – the Opti.  For heavens sake, it was designed to stay upright no matter where you sit.  A great trainer for year 1, but after 4 years – c’mon.  No wonder American kids prefer the next step to be a 40 year old design 420 over a modern 29er or Nacra 15.  After 6 years in a Opti – you want a stable barge.  

And of course the only adult sailing they can see is “big bots”  We are preparing our young sailors to leave dinghies to sit on the rail until 4pm and then sit in the beer tent for 2 hours.  If you are athletically inclined, you leave sailing and go mountain biking or surfing, because they have learned that in the US “sailing” is a sport for people who want to sit down.

Failure to understand the difference between US sailing and atheletic sailing cost Larry Ellison the America’s Cup and made almost all the US commentators sound silly.  Rule #1 in handicapping any sailing event is looking at who has more successful “time in the boat.”  New Zealand was driven by 2 guys with multiple world championships in flying boats – Oracle was being driven by a great sailor of old fashion boats who trained by boxing.  And yet even brilliant American sailors like Ken Read sounded surprised the Glen and Peter produced vastly superior speed and maneuvers.  Even our best has forgotten that there is a very different part of the sport that is athletic.

We have brain washed 2 generation into thinking that “sailing” is a sport where grown-ups sail with lead keels and mostly keep still.  Look, I love both forms – I’m a proud member of the NYYC,  have owned and loved a Swan 46 and I currently sail an A-Cats and F18.  That’s why I see the dichotomy.

Wanna keep young athlete’s in the sport?  Wanna win Olympic medals?

To change the game – maybe backwards – we must admit that our sport needs to be segmented.  The same governing body that presides over the 12 meter nationals is not going to understand the Moth class members.  We could invent new words to help with this segmenting or we could do what many Australians do and what American’s used to do – call anything with lead a Yacht and the rest sail boats.

Step one, do the math and accept we have a problem.  Step 2 find common language – if we can say “Yachting is in great shape in the US – sailing is hurting badly” then we can go to work.

Split US Sailing into USYRU and US Athletic Sailing Association.  Have the USAASA undertake to actively promote development of facilities and clubs.  Once you have focus on the issue, progress can be swift.

– Anarchist Chris

 

csabi

January 28th, 2018

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