From our friend Nick Hayes, author of Saving Sailing.
Kudos to Jesse Falsone for the call to action on Sailing Anarchy earlier this week (The Dream of Boat Ownership, Does it still exist with young people?), The Dream of Boat Ownership, Jesse is right, there is as much joy in sailing for fun as there is in sailing for wins. He’s also right that both racing and cruising adventures are improved by having taken the time to care for the boat on which we sail. And I can conﬁrm his observation. The data show that not many of us actually own the boats on which we sail. The majority of sailors sail aboard boats owned and cared for by others or boats that are part of a shared ﬂeet, even when the boats are small. This from research for the book Saving Sailing:
blue = mine, green = part of a shared fleet, brown = someone else’s.
While researching and pondering the book, I came to observe a related concept: when a boat is disposable, the sport becomes disposable. But when the boat is made exceptional by our own plans and hands, the sport becomes priceless. To be sure, it is hard to ﬁnd another sporting metaphor to explain this idea; perhaps crafty kayakers or artisan ﬂy-tyers will exhibit similar loyalties.
But I found it easier to compare sailing and our love of the boat with playing music and our love of the instrument. This is one of the key themes in the book. Any musician, hack or pro, covets and cares for a favorite instrument. It feels like a part of them whether playing it or polishing it. The instrument,like the boat, isn’t emotionally magnetic and therefore valuable because it is expensive or because it is a speciﬁc brand or design. It’s valuable because we are making an experience with it. It’s a tool for making fun.
Of course cost can be a barrier to any kind of ownership. This is a given. But the solution to high cost is often quite simple: we can select a more modest form of sailing(or musicianship) and often we ﬁnd it to be more enjoyable than an activity that creates ﬁnancial stress.
But there is larger problem than money. We’ve come to a place in American culture where we feel busier than ever, with commutes and debts and jobs and kids-sports and parties. Just like the daunting time commitment that we face when we might select sailing; caring for a boat seems absurdly costly in terms of time. So the vast majority of Americans would never consider making what feels like a major commitment of unavailable hours. This false feeling of crushing but artiﬁcial busy-ness is what creates the market for spas, and destination vacations, and cruise lines, and theme parks, and yes, charters.
But as the book shows, time recovery is a choice, well-within reach.
At the core of Jesse’s advice, that we ﬁnd an old boat and ﬁx it up and sail it, is the wisdom that to take the time to do such a thing is what makes the thing important. We should heed his advice, and if we do, sailing, of course, will prosper.
And I would add another, more concrete solution: youth programming can and should help teach the joys of caring for a boat as much as it teaches the fun of sailing a boat.This can be as simple as assigning a boat to a kid in a class for the duration of the session and making its legitimate care part of the student’s responsibility. Or it can be as complex as making boat construction, assembly or re-ﬁtting a key element in a sailing curriculum. Think scout soap box derby for sailing. This will be the topic of a later essay.