I recently read an article by a man named Bill Canfield. It was entitled “Sailing is Badly Broken.” Of course it got my attention. I don’t know Bill but it seems he has vast experience in the sport and he comes to his point of view from a very thoughtful perspective. I too come at this from a thoughtful perspective and here is my response; sailing has never been so alive, so vibrant, so exciting and so extraordinary, at least in my lifetime which, I cringe to say, is approaching six decades.
There is a longing for the old days of just “mucking around in boats” but they are gone. That’s life. The flip phone is gone, replaced by a shiny, sleek iPhone. The horse and buggy is gone replaced by a Porsche that can go from 0 to 60 in less than who knows how many seconds. I could go on, but you get my point. You can long all you want but life moves on.
For me this is what I see. I see flying boats. I see crazy Frenchmen taking 100-foot trimarans and sailing them around the world, all alone. Imagine that. Just one person, by themselves, on a boat that has a mainsail the size of one and a half tennis courts and a mast that towers 12 stories. And the foolish fellow dares to take it into the deepest parts of the Southern Ocean where the waves are huge and the wind howls constantly. After 49 days and a few hours he returns to France to set a brand new record. Extraordinary, or as the French might say, extraordinaire.
Nope sorry. I just can’t agree, but I don’t want to disagree with Mr Canfield just to be disagreeable. I don’t know him and I am sure his heart is in the right place but banging on about how much a new sail costs is just how to wreck the sport. Take a step back and look at your own children. These are vibrant human beings who are inspired by speed, sex and a fast pace. They are not going to get into sailing to go two knots; on a clunker; with bagged out Dacron sails. Look, I have kids, and I appreciate that sailing can be costly.
Or to put it another way, it can be frightfully expensive. I want my kids to love sailing, and they do. They are thrilled to see two America’s Cup boats converging at a combined speed of 80 miles an hour. They want to see who blinks first. They (probably) also want to see a pile-up. These are kids raised on NASCAR and Formula One. Phones that can stream live from the Southern Ocean as some crazy sailor (yes I am talking about you Alex Thompson) is cavorting about his IMOCA 60 barreling through the Southern Ocean at 28 knots while a French navy helicopter films it all.
Sailing is dying because it’s boring. Sailing is going to thrive because it’s quickly becoming one of the most exciting sports of our time. My kids want to be the wing trimmer on an AC 40. Or a crew on a boat setting off to try and set some new records. Sport evolves. Sailing has evolved, thankfully, to a point were finally it’s shiny enough and fast paced enough to excite non-sailors, kids included.
OK, just for perspective, I grew up sailing on a muddy puddle of water inland in South Africa. Wind and sails gave me a freedom that was a drug to this teenager. I recently went back to that muddy puddle. The fleet has dwindled to be sure. But the kids were excited. They had watched the last America’s Cup in San Francisco and were blown away by it.
That small stain of water propelled me out of South Africa and around the world, numerous times. I wonder how many of those kids who streamed Alex Thompson or who listened to an interview with Jimmy Spithill will be inspired to reach for their own unimaginable goal; to become a professional sailor and the ride the waves just like any other sporting figure. Truthfully my son wants to be a professional football player. I never say never but he is kind of a shrimp like his Dad and I don’t see him taking down any of those massive Mac Truck sized players. But he’s inspired and that’s what we need from a sport. Inspiration. Not a sad look back at what once was. – Brian Hancock.