yo, money

We always say that if you ever ad up what it really costs to own and race a boat, you would never do it. Anarchist Sam has an interesting look at those costs…

Most racing sailors like to compete with a shot at winning. We all know that winning requires two things – good equipment and time-in-the-boat. My boat needs to be competitive and I need to be as practiced as the fleet leaders. In sailing, both equipment and practice time are very expensive and many sailors have limits on what they can spend. Said another way – budget has a huge influence on standings in our sport.

So why doesn’t anyone talk about the real Cost-to-Compete when comparing one design classes? It’s not that hard to calculate.

Why do sailors talk about the price of the boat when calling a class affordable? For many popular classes – especially the fashionable twins M20 and J70 – the cost of the boat is a tiny fraction of the real cost for a sailor to succeed in the class. To win in these two classes, it appears that an “amateur” needs to spend at least $100K per year with many spending 2-5x this much. Professional sailors can own boats in these classes and spend less cash out of pocket – but they may well consume more economic resources than amateurs when you calculate the value of free sails and 100 days/year of funded practice time.

A J70 costs about $50K – so if we assume you sail it for 5 years and then throw it away, THE BOAT costs about $10k/year – less than what the top programs spend to do one Key West regatta. If you were going whole hog at KWRW with half a new suit of sails, some bottom work and a few pros on board the bill for that one event could easily top 2x the boat costs. OK….KWRW is and expensive regatta….but if the if the top amateurs spend $15K there, maybe they do 3 other events that only cost $7K and the worlds which cost $25K…anyway you can easily get to $50k per year without going nuts on upgrades and bottom work and insurance and ..etc. So $10k/year of boat depreciation plus $50K/yr expenses – total of $60k with only 15% being the “price of the boat.”

Hey, wait! I said over $100k/year or more to win in the J70 and the math just added up to $60K. That’s right, because the successful amateurs in fashionable classes like the J70/M20 – very often have multiple programs running simultaneously – a M32, Farr 40, TP52, J/105 etc. When I did my brief stint with the Freedom syndicate way back in 1983, 2 boat programs were a new luxury in the Americas Cup. DC proved that they were a huge competitive advantage for both boat development and team training. Today one boat programs in hot classes are the exception. Just listen to Clean’s interview with Terry H. from CRW – on how a M20 program fills the gaps in a multi boat campaign.

If we assume that a top J70/M20 amateur has at least one other program, then it safe to assume her other program is more expensive. So my over simplified math is to double the $60K/year we derived above and we get over $100k/year as the Cost-to-Compete. Again, many Pro sailors have jumped into these “affordable” classes and they spend less cash and win – but remember they get a deal on their equipment and the amateurs actually pay them to spend “time-in-the-boat” Imagine how the 83 Cup could have been different if DC had been smart enough to convince Alan Bond to pay the US team to practice 200 days a year thereby allowing the Freedom Syndicate to put all its resources into boat development!

There is nothing wrong with very high Cost-to-Compete – it is great if a class can find a group who can afford to spend $1 million/year campaigning a boats that costs $50k. But the sport needs less deceptive talk about “affordable” prices and more transparency about Cost-to-Compete. Most of the changes in the sport since 1983 have increased the Cost-to-Compete, but this has been ignored for fear of scaring away customers. The result is we see more churn – people jumping in, getting hit with the real expenses and getting out. And we see more boats sitting on their mornings instead of the line.

The best thing US Sailing could do for the long term health of the sport is to conduct a study looking at the top ten boats in each one design class and do a rigorous version of my Cost-to-Compet SWAG – then publish the results. Letting people get organized around this principal – intelligently select a class that is in line with their financial resources – would be a huge step forward for amateur sailing. My guess is it would be really good news for the Lightning class. Jump in the discussion.