Despite Biscayne Bay’s general awesomeness for sailing and its reputation as one of the top regatta destinations anywhere, it hasn’t been immune from the general decline in participation experienced by almost every sailing venue in America. Instead of sitting on their asses complaining about how expensive the sport is or how hard it is to find time for the average American, a group of long time sailors in Miami has formed, and it’s already turning back the tide of lost racers. Here’s how they are doing it.
SailMaimiNow is the brainchild of a few locals: Mark Kamilar, CRYC’s longtime director of Youth Sailing,Doug Broeker of the Snipe Class, and Chris Lanza of the Etchells Class. The trio of passionate sailors has been giving back to the sport for a long, long time – but apparently they’re not done yet. Their goal is to bring together clubs, sailing organizations, and sailors to work on concrete, results-based efforts to get more boats and more racers on Biscayne Bay.
The first meeting on July 30,2012 brought out a full meeting hall of willing participants; from Opti sailors to storytelling octogenarians, all united by the will to keep sailboat racing a continuing part of their lives and a part of Miami’s waterfront. The group discussed the decades-long decline in local racing participation, and five independent subcommittees were formed to address the problem:
- New Sailor/Boat outreach – outreach effort to find new sailors and boats
- Learn to Race Seminars – seminars and practice opportunities for developing racers
- Phone Tree – calls all skippers before key regattas to remind them of the race and solve crew problems; maintains active crew lists
- Communications – set up and support Facebook , internet , and traditional media offerings
- Events, Prizes, and Entertainment – helps make events worth attending, hand out prizes worth winning, and have entertainment worth driving back to the club for
Response has been encouraging. Over a hundred sailors have attended the group’s ad hoc Learn To Race, Practice Helming, and Spinnaker Seminars. The centerpiece of the effort so far has been the Coral Reef Annual Regatta; the group proudly told us PHRF participation more than doubled from 2011, and One-Design racing more than tripled. Several of the larger clubs also agreed to hire bands and provide free drinks for their annual regattas, and instead of just winning skippers showing up for their prizes, a healthy, enthusiastic crowd well into the triple digits partied into the evening.
After six months of operation, SailMiamiNow is encouraged by its clear, measurable success, but it’s clear to everyone that there’s plenty of effort necessary for the road ahead. Kamilar is optimistic, though. “We have found that people still want to sail and race, but the efforts have not been properly publicized or sold to target audiences for a long time. The days of ‘build it and they will come’ may be in the rearview mirror, but with an organized approach and some good old fashioned promoting by the people who love this sport the most, we see sailboat racing in Miami’s future for generations to come.”
Now that’s a role model.