Accountability in the Sport

Accountability for change starts by making a plan — and sticking to it.

sailing world
Having a positive impact on the sport of sailing should be a goal of every sailor.Beppe Giacobbe/Morga Gaynin

I have a friend who says no goal can be achieved without first saying it aloud. We all find our source of motivation, and putting an agenda out into the public does get the ball rolling. Failure in full view is a bummer. With 2017 looming, I thought about what plans I could make — what I will do differently or better, what actions will have a positive impact on my sport of choice, and what I need to do to remain enthusiastic. A few topics came to mind.

The first comes from a quote attributed to Albert Einstein, Ben Franklin and Mark Twain (pretty good company, right?): “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” When issues impact participation, it’s time for change. Determine what is needed for the whole community to succeed, not just those who are the most vocal.

Another topic involves how our sport thrives. While there are institutions and associations that support our activity, everything is people-­driven. Stability in our sport improves when participants both give and take. And finally, while we may partake in a certain sector of the sport, which is important for both improvement and contribution, variety is good for staying enthused.

Words are nothing without action, however, so to ensure I’m doing my part to help the sport thrive, I present to you, dear reader, my agenda for 2017 and beyond. Ask yourself: What might I do?

Go Windsurfing More than 40 years ago, Hoyle and Diane Schweitzer introduced their board-and-sail contraption, and while in junior sailing classes with their children, I was consumed by the fun, the freedom and the lessons it offered. I can't recall the last time I went windsurfing, so this year I will go to relive some of the past and enjoy some of the present. Hopefully, people will see me doing it. More people should be windsurfing. Creating interest can be that easy.

Have a Hobie Day My first job was for a boat dealership that sold Hobie Cats. I would race the demo boats in a summer beer-can series. I moved on after a few near-death Hobie 16 pitch-pole experiences, though I returned to win the US Sailing Championship of Champions in a Hobie 18. So I have some roots, shallow as they may be, and in my town there's a rental outfit where I can lay down a credit card, pay $35 an hour, and push off the beach for some Hobie sailing. There are even a few stops along the shoreline for liquid replenishment, though the best part of the day may be the ease of returning the boat: just pull it up on the beach and walk away. No ownership blues.

Race Locally The core of our sport is local participation. While the spotlight often shines brightest on regional events and championships, there would be massive landslides in our sport if not for a sturdy base. Sustainability comes from local participation in casual events — the kind of events that welcome boats with comfortable furniture. My wife and I just bought an Alerion Express 28, which will be our platform to support low-key competition on San Diego Bay. I can already hear myself saying, "One hand for the boat, one hand for the beverage."

Attend a PHRF Meeting I'm not sure if there's a more maligned organization than PHRF. One is led to believe that each local board is filled with self-serving, misinformed, small-minded back-markers concerned only with their own rating. Truthfully, I'm not sure about all that, but I plan to be a visitor at my local fleet's monthly meeting. PHRF is a vital gateway to our sport, providing boat owners with a simplified means to experience competition. It is hugely important that it functions fairly so it can encourage participation, and I'm eager to understand it better.

Be a Cheerleader I've heard many stories about individuals having a significant impact on their local fleet. They're the motivators, on the phone getting people fired up to go sailing. They help out with logistics, refurbish old boats, or share sailing tips. They are the local cheerleaders, and every sailing area needs them. They enjoy the game, and they know the game is more enjoyable with active and enthusiastic participants. I look forward to being a rah-rah for the cruiser/racer clan, encouraging participation in a sector of the sport that has diminished in our heightened climate of serious competition.

Corinthian Competition Our sport is more competitive than ever, with boat owners investing significant time and money in winning championships. There are now many skilled sailors willing to share their expertise — but only for a fee. In certain classes and events that allow paid crew and coaches, this is how the game is played. However, this growth of professionalism must fit within the sport and not overtake it. Amateur sailors must still be the priority. I will call upon professionals to give back to the sport, and champion events that recognize the accomplishments of amateur teams.

Volunteer for the Race Committee If I think about how many races I've been in, versus how many I've helped run, the ratio is somewhere between meager and pathetic. The sport is lucky to have volunteers fully devoted to running races — it is their recreation. But I also hear how the volunteer numbers in some areas aren't what they used to be. I have been a member of two clubs in my area, and this year I will raise my hand to help with the race committee and bring a few others along.

Kids and Keelboats There is a well-paved road for youth dinghy sailing. Participation is emphasized in institutional doublehanders, all leading toward high school and college competition. I hear people say that foiling is the future, and how the odds are getting longer to get kids into keelboats. I disagree. I say the more choices, the better the odds that more kids will stay in sailing. We will bring along kids in the Alerion and encourage others to do the same.

Beer-Can Racing Each harbor needs to sort out what it takes to motivate boat owners to participate in weekend events. A full weekend of windward/leeward racing excludes cruisers and casual racers. Simpler weekday beer-can races appeal to a broader group. Maybe weekend races need to adjust. Getting away from work in time for the beer-can races has been tough for me, typically, but I will overcome that challenge and go beer-can racing.

Intergenerational Events There are more kids sailing today than when I was young, but the youth of today are typically seen competing against their peers. While this trend succeeds as a social experiment, what it lacks are the lessons learned by competing against and with other age groups. It's an asset in sailing when all ages and genders can compete together, and I plan to be on the starting line this summer for the Dutch Shoe Marathon. This iconic San Diego event in 8-foot Naples Sabots — boxy prams with leeboards — is popular with juniors but also open to adults. The point-to-point course travels over 7 miles through sections of San Diego Bay, where I will sail side by side with preteens. The shared experience is priceless.

At the 2016 induction ceremony for the National Sailing Hall of Fame, inductee Malin Burnham spoke of the importance of “community before self.” His message is that we all succeed when we look beyond our personal objectives. With my planned actions for 2017, I hope to do the same. By sharing them publicly, I will be motivated to follow through. Will you?