Make Them Pay Attention

"If they're not thinking sailboat racing, they're thinking about doing something else."

The wind is oscillating, with good puffs tempting us along the shore, but more favorable current out in the Bay. The sail trim's a work in progress, but we're gaining on the boat to leeward. My mind's engaged and so is my body. Every shore-based concern has disappeared. Welcome to my world. It's yours, too. Sharing this world is one of my favorite things, and it's at the heart of successful fleet building. But what's the secret formula for getting more people out racing to experience it? It's simple, really. You just need to get their attention. In a talk I gave at the US SAILING One-Design Symposium last November (posted at, I referred to this by the marketing term, "share of mind." That means communicating with people, reminding them that sailboat racing exists and has a lot to offer. You can use event promos, newsletters, advertising, e-mail, websites, phone calls, and plain old face-to-face conversations. Nothing beats an invitation to join you for a sail. The point is to generate a thought process, followed by activity, which generates more thought-all related to sailboat racing. The One-Design Symposium itself provides a perfect example: All fall the leaders of one-design classes across the country were barraged with promotional e-mails and announcements encouraging them to attend. More than 100 people came, representing 40-plus classes, and whether in presentations, panel discussions, or at parties, they engaged in two days of conversation about one-design racing. And they left charged up about what they could do for their fleets and classes. (Credit for the symposium goes to Lee Parks, Jerelyn Biehl, Patty Lawrence, Clark Chapin, and Joni Palmer of US SAILING's One-Design Class Council.) In the case of your racing fleet, if you don't compete for share of mind, other factors will begin driving your fleet's health, and unless you get plain lucky, your fleet will get smaller. Why is that? Youth sailors are always developing other interests. Young adult sailors are on the move, short of cash, and getting married and having kids. Older sailors are changing jobs, moving away, putting kids through college, getting divorced and remarried, and having all sorts of other life issues that occur as we get older. But compete for people's attention and other factors go to work for you: People are moving into your town. They're looking for fun, coed, family-oriented activities. They're looking for a change of pace, a challenge, an adventure. Some are already sailors, butalmost anyone will be drawn to an activity charged with positive energy. Sailboat racing provides all this and more. As my friend Walter always says, we just have to keep improving the "product." That may mean inventing something new-such as a pursuit race, a swap meet, or a toga party-or encouraging handheld VHFs so people hear their recalls. Every year it means a fresh look at our schedule and tried-and-true methods to see how we can involve more people. If you're a racing junkie-a diehard who never misses a race-you may not understand the fresh enthusiasm most people find in the spark of a new idea. They pay attention when we say anybody who's ever won a race can't steer this race, and then they get on the water. From there, the wind, waves, and tide take over the task of capturing share of mind. Our world gets richer in the process, and not just because there's one more boat on the starting line.