dave reed headshot
“We got our butts kicked,” is how Nantucket (Mass.) YC Commodore David Poor summed up his team’s experience at the 2012 New York YC Invitational Cup Qualifying Series. “But it was a real eye opener. It showed us that we need to train our sailors to be more competitive in high-performance boats.”
The root of the drubbing, said Commodore Poor, is the antiquated boats they sail during their short summer racing season on the island. The solution, in concept, is obvious: Buy a new fleet of sportboats. The execution, however, will be a battle. Money isn’t the issue. It’s getting everyone onboard.
The Commodore isn’t the only flag officer tackling this quandary today. At the 2011 US Sailing Yacht Club Summit, most U.S. clubs identified a club one-design fleet as the most effective way to engage members, young and old. Most clubs, however, are saddled with aging fleets of outdated designs and stubborn fleet captains who refuse to dismiss their beloved and user-friendly classics.
As the Commodore rightly points out, antique raceboats don’t effectively prepare young adult sailors for the real world of performance sailing. Sportboats are not going away, so clubs can play a better role in providing the skill sets to be competitive in these modern designs.
Thus, the emboldened Commodore is on a quest to bring high-performance sailing to Nantucket’s already crowded stable of one-designs, and at their recent annual winter meeting, various fleet captains and representatives of the Nantucket sailing institutions assembled to hear about his initiative. He enlisted me, as an unbiased outsider, to moderate a discussion about the shortlist of one-designs he and a few others had put together. The list varied from antique to eccentric: Thistle, Lightning, and all the latest sportboats. Even the E Scow and Weta Trimaran made the docket.
As we worked through the selection, discussing the one-design merits of each boat, I sensed a building unease in the packed room. I’m sure a few fleet captains started imagining the dark day their beloved class vanished from the island. I shifted the discussion away from the boats themselves and peppered them with questions I felt must be answered before they even started talking about boats. I’m sure they are questions countless clubs before have asked as part of this very same exercise.
Is it sensible to invest in high-performance boats at the risk of alienating a base that’s more comfortable with low-tech? Who will ultimately use the new boats and how? Would the young adult members they’re trying to retain or attract sacrifice their weekend family time to go train and race? Is a cool new boat incentive enough to re-engage them? And, honestly, what is the true skill level of the sailors? Would they be able to handle a high-performance sportboat in the strong sea breeze conditions the island experiences all summer long?
The group disbanded with some serious introspection ahead of them. If they want to find the best boat, they must first agree on a common primary goal, whether it is to engage young adults, attract new sailors, or not get their butts kicked next time.
If your club has already been down this path and you have advice for the Commodore, share it with me (at [email protected]), and I’ll pass it along.
– Dave Reed