blazers not required When we April fooled many of you about US Sailing inviting the Ed and me to keynote the Yacht Club Summit last week, we were only half-joking.

clean report

blazers not required

When we April fooled many of you about US Sailing inviting the Ed and me to keynote the Yacht Club Summit last week, we were only half-joking.  I had gotten my credentials weeks before, and frankly was looking forward to seeing some old friends and seeing what the Gary Jobson-masterminded seminar would accomplish.

I can’t say that my expectations were high. With a few narrowly focused exceptions (the Junior Sailing and One-Design Symposia come to mind) most peoples’ experience of US Sailing-sponsored meetings has been less than great, and the word “circle jerk’ was used to describe quite a few of them.  It didn’t bode well that this one was called the Yacht Club Summit, either, and there was the distinct chance that I’d be awash in a sea of blue blazer and blue hair asking people to use MySpace to help their clubs.

But I was pleasantly surprised, and engrossed enough to stay for a second day.

It’s not that Jobson and Executive Director Jack Gierhart hit this one out of the park – it was not revolutionary and it did not instantly solve the myriad problems that sailboat racing faces.  But what it did do was start a new age in communication and cooperation, and it energized the people who, for the moment anyway, dictate the direction that the sport runs – YC, Sailing Center, and Class officers.

Past performance is not indicative of future value…
Our main criticism of US Sailing over the years has had little to do with their administrative decisions, and lots to do with their incredibly poor level of communication with the sailing public.  This was much less of a factor during the USYRU days when clubs actually were US Sailing.   They’d meet much like this and share strategies and lessons on what was working and what wasn’t, take those back to their memberships, and the sport thrived.  The modern era moved toward a more efficient, more professional, and more centralized governance structure for sailing’s NGB, and in the process, US Sailing lost touch with the grass roots that power the sport.  They also lost the knowledge of how important it to provide a way for individuals and clubs to share those all-important lessons from in the trenches of sailing.

For years, the magazines and newsletters bridged that gap a little, but as magazines  faded into obscurity and websites (other than our own) proved to reach just a few thousand folks regularly, the communication rift has just kept growing.   In the meantime, communications technology has made sharing info nearly effortless, but US Sailing has been hamstrung for years by a massive Information Technology nightmare that is only now finally being cleared up, while the advanced age of many of the decision makers in clubs and bodies has made the leap into modernity a hesitant one.  Which takes us to Jobson’s YC Summit.

After the many missteps of the previous US Sailing administration, we were certainly skeptical that a legendary and aging self-promoter like Jobson would have the ability to lead American sailing into the modern world.  But more and more, trusted voices are telling us that he is doing positive things.   And this is the first chance we’ve had to evaluate it for ourselves.

Productive Panels
While the format of the Summit was not as efficient as it could be, with horrible lighting and totally underutilized multimedia projectors, the presentations were, for the most part, extremely informative.  Split-off panels of speakers with proven expertise shared their experiences on subjects like race participation, youth programs, membership growth, and event management, while Keynote speakers like Tom Ehman, Ted Turner, and Stan Honey wowed the crowds with more engaging topics.  The audience was encouraged to ask questions, and aside from a few disruptive wankers more interested in showing how much they knew rather than sharing valuable info or learning, the questions were concise and the answers well received and appreciated.  Similarly, the panel speakers were for the most part well-chosen – AC34 PRO John Craig, USSTAG Chairman Dean Brenner, Sail Newport’s Brad Read, Match Race guru Dave Perry, ESPN Producer Geoff Mason, and Stan Honey all stood out among the rest and provided great guidance to the crowd.    

Some of the panels were hijacked a bit by speakers who either had no clue or an agenda – you could hear the audience snicker when Sailing World Publisher Sally Helme stressed the importance of paper magazines and warned clubs of communicating ‘too much’ electronically, but these moments were few and far between, while in between panels and at the Ted Turner dinner and in the bar later, robust discussions continued between hundreds of passionate advocates for the sport.

Stop Making Sense
If there was one area that showed glaring inadequacy, it was the general field of technology and e-communication.  Over and over, panelists and audience members showed their ignorance of what is possible and worthwhile in today’s world of electronic data transfer.  You had some panelists talking about real-time race results like it was a new thing.  Others talked about how streaming live video would be really possible one of these days. But with a few exceptions (thanks Tom and Randy), the elephant in the room – that Sailing Anarchy reaches far more sailors than any other publication or sailing site in the world, that we’ve been broadcasting regattas live for two years and near-live for 6, that Charleston Race Week organizers attribute much of their insane success to long term advertising with us – was completely ignored.   In a world where web media is increasingly important, it’s just not productive to leave out the folks that are best at it, though we’re long past taking it personally, and it doesn’t diminish our appreciation for the positive steps that the event made one bit.

Video Killed The Traveling Star
But our final criticism does diminish our enthusiasm a bit, and it’s something that we really hope will resonate with Jobson and Gierhart for 2012, assuming they have the event again.

You see, it’s inexcusable in this day and age for an important national symposium to be held without recording for later viewing, or online streaming.  It’s not like this is even new technology any more, even to the dinosaurs that make up most of the top levels of the sport (and the average age at the event WAS probably somewhere between 50 and 60).  The excuse provided to us was that the hotel was Union-governed, and that no filming of any kind could take place without expensive Union labor.  The fact that US Sailing chose to hold their symposium in such a place has FAIL written all over it from a communications standpoint.

Once again, communications is a huge issue, and it seems that Jobson still hasn’t learned that speaking to a constituency numbering in the tens or hundreds of thousands is now a simple and inexpensive process.  Sure, he reaches a couple thousand on his never-ending road trips, lecturing at yacht clubs all over the planet.  And sure, this Summit reached 300 folks and change, many of which will share at least some of the info with their fellow members when they get around to it.

But there are an estimated 700,000 racers in the US and 2.5 million sailors, and I don’t care if you have a teleportation machine – you’re never going to engage more than a tiny fraction of them – especially the younger ones – if you rely on getting in front of a podium in a YC bar or holding a seminar for a few hundred to spread your message.  Getting those few hundred the information they need to help move the sport forward is a nice start, and this YC Summit will definitely be remembered as the first step towards a new cooperative effort by the major clubs that attended, but why reach 300 people when you can reach 30000 for almost no more cash?

Justin Time
Rather than be part of the problem, I decided to be part of the solution.  I’d known about the camera prohibition, and when I saw the quality of the assembled panels, I figured it would be a shame to keep it from the sailing public, so I figured I might as well try to do something about it.

Since Hotel staff was keeping a sharp eye on the crowd, I just set up my computer to stream the live video using its unobtrusive built-in webcam.  I turned my new little Macbook (the last one succumbed to OTWA salt dangers) around and pointed it at the panel, and inserted titles where I could.   I could only go to one panel at a time, the quality is total crap (bandwidth) and the sound awful (built-in microphone), but it is definitely watchable and listen-able, even if you need a pair of headphones at times.

Don’t take my word for it; have a look at the index below and take a few minutes to listen to a panel that piques your interest.  Already, some 35,000 viewers have done just that, pushing our total number of views for On-The-Water Anarchy’s channel on Justin.TV from 3,660,000 last Wednesday to nearly 4,100,000 today in just 19 months. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, the people are there, and if you give them a chance to check out something to do with the sport they love, they will watch it.

And hopefully, next year, the world will be able to do the same; with good quality and a choice of what to watch.

Do It Your Damned Self – For Free
I was also sort of inspired by this whole webcasting mess, and the complete lack of information that most people seem to have about live video, which is becoming more important in our culture by the day.  Last year, video viewers like YouTube, Vimeo, and related grew their viewership by something like 60%.  Live streamed video amongst the top sites like Justin.TV, Ustream, and Livestream grew by over 600%.    The content is getting better, the technology cheaper, and bandwidth more available, but most importantly, people are getting used to using it.  The fact that you can watch Charleston Race Week live from the deck of your chartered cruising boat at a dock in St. Thomas is silly, but it’s not only possible – it’s free (if you have the app).  That’s one small example of a larger movement, and it doesn’t necessarily take two cameramen, a producer, and all the gear and software that I carry around with me.

While that stuff is necessary to really making it look good, ANYONE with a decent webcam, a computer, and an internet connection can stream live video on the web for absolutely nothing.  With a $200 camcorder, a $50 microphone, a long cable, and someone who likes to talk on camera, you can actually stream almost any part of your club’s event in decent quality…again, for free.

I thought when we proved that the audience was there for this stuff that the publications desperate to get some of their audience back would grab it and run with the concept and help achieve what we’ve been trying to do – making sailing of all levels visibile to the public.  But they have failed, we are spread very thin, and people still don’t understand what is possible.  

So I’m making an offer to all of you right now:  On my birthday – Wednesday, April 20th, I am going to give you all a birthday present:  I am going to show you how to stream sailing video live from your club or school or whatever.  I am going to share the hard-fought secrets with you that have taken us 6 years, hundreds of thousands of dollars, and thousands of hours to learn.  I’ll show you the equipment, the websites, and the process you need to follow. I’m not going to show you how to make it as good as we do, because that costs more money than the vast majority of clubs can spend. But I am going to show you how to make it happen so that your competitors and their friends and families and your club’s TV can feature your own live sailing action sports.   It’s my hope that thousands of you watch my webinar, and hundreds of you start streaming events this summer even if just a few people watch, and that some of you bring us in to help you make the bigger events reach hundreds of thousands of people.  It’s a win-win, and it’s all thanks to my attendance at the Yacht Club Summit.


Interview with US Sailing Team Chairman Dean Brenner
Interview with Stan Honey
Gary Jobson Intro and Panel Discussion on Communications
Information Technology Panel Part 1
Information Technology Panel Part 2
Regatta Management Panel
Ehman Greets Sailing Anarchy For Everyone
Increasing Race Participation
Stan Honey’s Jules Verne Record
Tom Ehman on How Your Club Can Get Involved In The Cup
Building Membership
National Sailing Hall of Fame
Junior Sailing/Youth Programs