There’s been a lot of discussion about “saving sailing,” a dialogue prompted by Milwaukee sailor Nicholas Hayes, whose book Saving Sailing examines the sport’s declining participation. Hayes makes many valid observations, backed by his own research into sailing’s most common barriers—competition for leisure time, the fractured family, waterfront access, retention, and all that. And while the book goes to great lengths to point out the obvious, there is, for me, one simple takeaway: the only way for you and I to “save” sailing is to go sailing, and when we go sailing, take someone new.
The health of our sport, our fleets, our clubs, and our classes, and for some of us, our sailing families, falls upon the shoulders of each and every one of us—not the industry or the media, but we, the participants. So I propose a three-pronged summer offensive to Hayes’ call to action. We’ll save sailing one crewmember at a time.
If you think, “No duh,” after reading this, that’s understandable. None of these ideas should be earth-shattering in any way. Here’s the first prong of the offensive: Never leave the dock one crew short. On Thursday nights here in the Newport J/24 fleet there have been plenty of times when the team I sail with has settled for four when the fifth bailed at the last minute and we exhausted our call list of the “good sailors” we know. That’s a shame, and a missed opportunity. So this summer I propose we all make a vow to expand our lists of prospective crew to include non-sailing friends, colleagues, wives, girlfriends, our mechanic, the guy we regularly run into at the gym, or even a perfect stranger off the street.
Imagine the potential if each subscriber to this magazine, and the thousands of other readers that turn its pages in yacht club men’s rooms, were to take one new crewmember sailing or racing this summer: that’s more than 50,000 people participating in one big “come-to-sailing” effort. The return might be low, but if 2 percent get hooked on the sport, that’s 1,000 new sailors added to our pool. If we keep at it every year, the pool will be bottomless. Further to this, let’s all take advantage of John Arndt’s worldwide Summer Sailstice initiative on June 19 (for more about Sailstice, visit summersailstice.com). It’s simple: Go sailing, bring someone new, and teach him or her how to trim your sails.
Prong No. 2 is another no-brainer: Take kids racing and make one a member of the team. Start by programming your local youth sailing program director’s cell number into your phone and let him or her know you’ll be calling for pick-up crew every so often. Better yet, make sure to take your own kids. My son is six and my daughter is eight, and neither have yet to experience the bumper-boat excitement of a J/24 Fleet 50 start, or a night on the Bay banging around the cans with the local PHRF fleet. Maybe they’ll take to it, maybe they won’t, but I’m going to give it a shot.
The third prong of this action plan should also go without saying: Make it fun. Gary Jobson offers up a few excellent alternatives to predictable windward-leeward races (p. 25). I love a good double-sausage course as much as the next guy, but Gary’s right: a reach leg every so often would be a blast. I intend to ask (suggest? beg?) my race committee to designate one evening a “Bay Race,” with a surprise course using multiple government marks and random legs. We did it once many years ago on the last night of a summer series, and in my nearly 20 years of sailing in the fleet it’s still the one race I remember most.