Even amongst those who ought to know better, there seems to be an overwhelming foreign perception that sailing in Australia is somehow a major, mainstream sport. As much as we’d love that to be the case, it just ain’t.
Handicap racing throughout the country has been in decline for years, and Aussie sailing has the same problem retaining their 20-somethings that we do. Yes there are a lot more high-performance boats than amongst USAnians, still amateur; probably 95% of the Sydney Hobart teams and general big boat racers are unsponsored amateurs. Dinghy racing is far stronger than in the States, but it tends to be in either obscure classes or scattered far and wide in the huge country. The 18-Footers are incredible, but without legalized gambling, subsidized fees, and the selfless and obsessed Woody the fleet wouldn’t exist. You can walk around Sydney Harbor and ask 100 locals if they’ve ever been racing, and 97 of them will tell you ‘no’. And we’ve asked.
But the times; they are a changin’. Team Oz’s spectacular London Olympics combined with visibility offered by the scads of Aussie sailors in the Cup seems to have ignited the Aussies in a number of ways, but there’s also a real media effort from people like Olympic 470 gold medalist Mal Page and the Sailing Chix with Nix girls to help drive ordinary Aussies to the water’s edge.
This news vid of the new explosion in interest is a great example, and at least fractionally compensates for the same Seven that screwed up the live video feed of the Hobart start so royally.