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We Are Family

saving sailing

We Are Family

Something new for you to ponder from Nick Hayes, author of Saving Sailing…

Schanen said they’d be opinionated. If I was serious about publishing a book with the audacious notion that sailing should be saved, he warned, I should be prepared to hear a variety of raw and vocal diatribes. Bill is a wise and prescient man. Here are some of my favorites adapted from reader emails and from these forums in response to the book Saving Sailing:

 “The world has gone to hell, and sailing is going with it. I quit.” 

 “Too many idiots in it already, why would you want to attract more? Get ‘em off the course.”

 “All is well, here. I don’t give a sh_t what’s happening in the rest of the world. You want to sail, move to Annapolis or San Diego.”

For now, let’s sidestep these beauties.

But one opinion piece caught my eye the other day. A sailor blogs: “the idea of mentoring, mostly within sailing families, seems grossly inadequate for keeping sailing from shrinking.” This is followed by a genuinely and constructively crafted list of marketing and programming ideas meant to attract more to the sport. Many of them good ideas, in my view.

But the suggestion that the family is inadequate can’t go unaddressed.

To start, the book isn’t about numbers. It doesn’t care about quantity or popularization or marketing. Indeed, I found ample evidence that marketing, in the case of sailing, is often a cause, not a solution to the problem of decline. For the vast majority of its participants, sailing isn’t a business, a consumable, or a spectator sport; it’s a commitment between friends. When marketers get out of the way and let it happen on grand and personal terms, sailing finds its equilibrium.

More to the real issue, Saving Sailing laments, and offers solutions to, the dearth of quality time for things like sailing for the vast majority of Americans, especially those in families faced with debts, commutes, 24/7 media addictions and the false notions that kids must be peak performers in all things they do, that they should do all things, or in the most extreme case, that they should aspire to be reality TV contestants or idols. 

Research shows that within a modern family, if anyone sails at all, it is usually just one or two persons. Everyone else accommodates and watches, sometimes wistfully, from afar. Most often, no one leads others to it. The rest might like to be there too, but the formats are wrong: schedules don’t jive, skill levels are too varied, time too cluttered, or the program or the fleet doesn’t allow mixing. Due respect to my blogging friend, he has underestimated the massive power of the family and the mentor. In fact, the simple idea of a family sailing and learning together has the potential to instantly multiply the actual number of active sailors. And of course, if your kids sail with you, their friends are next in line. Simple math says that if we make small changes, sailing will almost overnight become as popular as it was at its apex thirty years ago. It’s so simple, we’ve missed it. 

But we can do it, and we can start now. I’m excited to be working with community centers and clubs that are building (right now, in this off-season) affordable, engaging and fun-packed family learn-to-sail curricula and to be helping to share these ideas with other organizations in talks and meetings around the country.

Most importantly, however, whether in a program, a race, or a simple boat ride, the shared experience of family sailing improves the tenor of the activity, promoting it far above just game or skill to its due status: a way of living richly. This is an idea that I hope we all learn to share with the idiots cluttering the course and with the world outside of Annapolis and San Diego, to prevent the entire place from going to hell.

Couldn’t help myself.

Nicholas Hayes
Saving Sailing