I grew up in a sailing family. It has been a constant thread in our family for centuries and one that I have had the pleasure of sharing with my children. I grew up sailing on sabots and big boats. I would race doublehanded with my father. I raced on other peoples boats and then, after a certain amount of commercial success was able to race my own boats. It is a large part of who I and my family are.
But the sport of sailing has changed since my childhood some 50 years ago. I grew up jumping in a boat and sailing for the day with my friends. It was our moment of independence. No adults, just us, a boat and a horizon. I believe it is a sport of repetition. It’s about time on the water. To do that, you have to enjoy it. We did it because the freedom it provided was unique for children.
It was also popular. The economic boom the US experienced after WW2 allowed many families to enjoy a level of disposable income never before seen. Sailing was a relatively inexpensive sport for a family to enjoy. As a result, the sport grew exponentially.
I did not grow up in a fancy yacht club. Ours was a ‘working man’s’ largely blue collar club. Tradesman were more prevalent than lawyers and executives. It was about Friday night BBQ’s and Saturday racing. We would have 50-100 boats racing every weekend. We had almost 100 kids in our junior program. We would have 25-30 boats racing in our Sabot fleet. As kids we raced while our parents, more often than not, drank up in the club…if they weren’t also out racing. It was fun, low stress, and healthy.
But sailing today has become something I don’t recognize from my youth. While my parents and the other adults did a lot to help me learn how to sail, my best coaches and teachers were the older kids in our club. They mentored us the same way they had been mentored. It was on each of us to teach the group behind us.
Today, sailing is seen as a pathway for a kid to get into an Ivy League School. Parents that have never sailed hire a professional coach, buy a boat (called an optimist), and travel with their kids to far flung places to compete on an “international” level. I see it all the time, a gaggle of “Opti Moms” all sitting around reading a book or trolling social media; while some ‘professional’ yells at their kids from RIB (rigid inflatable boat). They force their kids to do it 5 days a week all year long. On the weekends they are no where to be seen, at the club. The mom’s rarely venture to the bar; content to read near the dock and looking at their watch to see when they can go home.
Sure as kids we dreamed of sailing in the Olympics or the America’s Cup. But the reality was that while a couple of us would; most would not. Sure, some of my friends went on to become Collegiate All-Americans, Olympians and America’s Cup sailors; most of us did it because we enjoyed it. I didn’t get accepted by a university because I was a sailor, I got in because my grades were good enough. School was primary in my house and sailing was a hobby.
There is a dark cost to the current format: average kids without coaches are pushed out early and go play soccer or some other sport. The good kids sail at a club until their Freshman year of high school when they join the school’s sailing team. They and their parents leave the club and focus on the high school team. Then when they graduate college, if they are still sailing, they drop out of sailing altogether having just spent upwards of 17 years sailing 5 days a week. Gone, never to return. More than 30 years of sailors have disappeared and with it the sport of sailing. Races that used to have 100 have 10.
That’s not my sailing.
Where we’re headed
We started the club, in Ocean Park, because there is no sailing here. Thus, there are no “opti moms”. For us it is a clean slate and that excites us, as a family. In a perfect world sailing teaches so many great lessons for anyone of any age:
- Self-Reliance: boats are very small and the ocean is huge. You must learn to control the boat on your own. There is no side of the pool to hold onto. There is no sideline, there are no “time-outs”. The clock runs from the moment you leave the dock until the moment you return. It teaches you to trust yourself.
- Confidence: there is a great confidence that results from knowing you can, on some days master, but on all days survive what the wind and waves throw at you.
- Independence: on the water you must learn to be independent and care for yourself in a healthy way.
- Team Work: a crew on a boat all have a job. Each job is significant in it’s moment. You learn to rely on and support eachother.
- Self-awareness: the ocean is a dangerous place. Sailing teaches you to develop a situational awareness that is driven from the necessity to pick your head up, stay calm and develop a plan to get out of whatever situation you are in.
- Enhancing the family unit: too many sports are focused on the parents watching. Sailing is a sport that a family, together can enjoy and even compete. It is about working together to achieve a common goal; it’s not about reliving and fixing the mistakes of your youth through your children.
But there is more than that to sailing. We believe sailing is a fabulous gateway to getting people interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). Too often we hear people bemoan that what they are learning in school has no relation to real life. Get on a boat and geometry, physics, math, engineering all come to life in a way that is real and tangible. Whether it is understanding the currents and tides (Oceanography), the winds (Meteorology), the impact of wind shifts (Geometry), sail shape to optimize your speed (Aerodynamics), or how a boat tips over in wind (Physics); it’s all about STEM.
Our goal is to acquire a fleet of boats for use by club members and provide instruction to teach them. We suffer from an elevated high school dropout rate; our hope is that sailing can help these “at risk” students to find in sailing that which will then excite them in the classroom and in life. At the same time, it is about giving adults an outlet that is healthy, positive and confidence building.
Yes, we say members. But anyone can come to our club and enjoy the facilities. Club members, for a nominal annual fee, get a significant discount on their drinks and food at the club. They will, also, as we build the fleet, have access to sailing lessons and an opportunity to sail the boats on their own. The only qualification for membership is that you want to learn, try and have fun.
Welcome to Shoalwater Bay Yacht Club.