Had we heeded the forecaster’s gloomy wind warnings, we would not have started the race, but 20 sailboats slipped over the line at 18:30 and inched up the 21-mile course. An hour—and two tedious miles—later, a red sun set leaving a starless sky. Two hours and barely four miles in, the fog came down like a black velour lining a coffin. Wet. Dark. Deadly.
On a whim, we installed an inexpensive, low power, lightweight wireless transmitter on our boat that broadcasts all our instrument data to all of our crew’s devices, lighting up tablets and phones with an endless stream of sailing numbers. And like that, the monopoly on complex combined weather models or data-driven sailing strategy appears to have been broken. Silicon Valley may have finally dropped the breakthrough technical grenade on sailing, but it’s not called foiling; it’s called “Big data comes to the little boat.”
Along came the lightweight planing hull, skimming over the surface of the water, and designers declared the heavy iron-genny obsolete.
Dealers said, “Imagine the convenience: When it breaks (and it will) you simply take it to the lawn mower mechanic for service! No more visits from the only grease monkey in town willing to work in a bilge.”
What they didn’t say, of course, is that while an outboard-driven sportboat may be big and fast enough to go just about any place, it will never do it upwind in a breeze higher than 10 knots. Period.
Sailing’s volunteers are everywhere. But they’re old. Kind and committed but concerned about the future. They’ll often tell you that they don’t know who’s going to take over. They see too few young volunteers. They’re worried that a legacy of altruism, spanning generations, may be lost.
We’re witness to a different American experience for generations born after 1980, where it’s more convenient to rent a pro to get you in and out of a weekend activity than contribute to the activity in return for access to it. Or, if you can’t afford a pro, it can be easier not to go at all. It might seem that America is becoming less civic.
If you haven’t heard, US Sailing is going all-in on STEM. The plan is to integrate school subjects with sailing lessons in a program that some claim will revolutionize the teaching of sailing and attract gobs more kids to it. Sailing centers and clubs around the country are jumping on the bandwagon. Sailing coaches and club directors are pitching school boards to deliver kids to the docks, where sailing instructors will do the teaching. Imagine, one day, the guy who codes your kid’s shoot-em-up computer game will have been trained on an Optimist pram. Tillers may soon have joysticks.
I can’t imagine a quicker way of making sailing—which I think ranks right up there with the most fun things ever—less fun than polluting it with algebra. Read more in .
When we reached the man in the water and made eye contact, it was clear to the entire crew that we would only have one chance and a few minutes at rescue. He was still treading water and aware of his predicament, but was taking breaking waves over his head and showing obvious signs of panic and exhaustion.
Years later, I still wake up thinking about how close we were to losing him, and the many things we could have done better. In the end, you do your best with what you have, and we didn’t have one measly extra second. Read more in .
Racing-focused sailing schools tend to be led by sailors who see a world in which competition frames everything: career, culture, success, leadership and new ideas. In that way of thinking, a sailing school is a place to make and hone top performers for such a world.
Schools that avoid racing tend to be led by sailors who see a world in which competition is unnecessarily exclusive and limiting, especially when it is focused on young people.
Neither approach is ideal. Other youth sports can provide some guidance as to what not to do. Read more at .
How do we judge change on its merits when we’re in the thick of the transition? How can we know if a development is progressive or regressive when it is happening? Change in sailing is constant and opinions about it always differ wildly.
We can’t know, for example, what it means that keelboats likely won’t sail in the next Olympics. Progress or regress? All we have now is opinion, and it comes with biases and baggage.
Lately, I’ve been asking the kids what they think.
But Sailing’s adult female newcomer is rightly skeptical that membership in a club is necessary to her sailing. Why fight through a thick residue of archaic attitudes when your mission is to go blast reaching with your friends and then post clips?
So like the disruptive new technology that reshaped the America’s Cup, this new demographic is shaking sailing’s traditional institutions – sailing and yacht clubs – to their core.
Read more at
Never offer a feel-good suggestion to a green-faced crewmate. It’s a sure way to make a bad situation worse. Instead, let’s tackle the sour subject of seasickness, and what to do about it, in the safe confines of this fine, stable magazine.
Most medical experts will say that seasickness is a response to the eyes seeing one thing and the body feeling another, or vice versa. When there is a conflict, the primitive brain thinks it is hallucinating and assumes that the body has been poisoned, so it sends the purge command. Some say that the only cure is to eliminate the conflict and that means staying home. That doesn’t help folks who want to learn to sail. Read more.
Anyone who has sailed a Laser will tell you that it is first and always a nimble sportboat—responsive, sized right, intuitive, thrilling to sail on a reach and the magnet at the center of a modern social network. Laser fleets are usually age, ability and gender agnostic, and Laser sailors are generally welcoming and helpful to each other.
But legal battles regarding the license to build the Laser may kill this masterpiece of sailing couture and culture.
How many times have you heard a graying sailor reminisce about beach-launching their dinghy as a kid? It’s a common story, but it almost never happens today. The sailors of the past could do it, in large part, because the water was as much theirs as anyone else’s.
Today, the perception that sailing is elitist, at least in terms of access, is becoming a reality as the waterfront, and therefore water access, is chipped away.
Sailing centers, an ideal embodiment the public trust doctrine, can make a difference.
Image by Curt Crain.
There’s a big change underfoot. Sailing is becoming the activity of adult women.
Here’s some evidence: Facebook analytics reports that among 1.1 million Americans who express an interest in sailing, women account for 51%, and 88% of them are over 25 years old. But they’re not just fans. Women under 24 and over 35 share their own sailing experiences on Facebook almost twice as often as men.
The skipper who nudges the bow down on a knock walks in the well-worn tracks of the environmentally aware. It’s one of the great joys and grand benefits of sailing, and it’s bigger than just acting “sustainably” or “green.” Instead of only observing nature, or worse, finding ourselves befuddled by it, sailing can connect us to it and then we can learn to track with it. Once we feel and respond to small changes, we might learn to sense other, bigger shifts.
Most sailors accept the word of the ratings god.
I’ve met a few sailors who aren’t so compliant. These are the folks who see the assignment of a rating as a process that might be as much in their control as a decision to tack to cover a competitor.
I have a name for this strategy. As opposed to concentrating purely on the racing game, these sailors have found that it can be just as useful to concentrate resources on the ratings game.