By Roger McMillan
World 470 champions Mat Belcher and Malcolm Page, interviewed in the last issue, placed a lot of emphasis on having fun. If sailing wasn’t fun, they said, they would struggle to put the time and effort in.
Very few people get paid to go sailing. The rest, whether they’re young off-the-beach sailors or crusty old weekend warriors in a big production yacht, do it because it’s fun. And if it stops being fun, they stop doing it.
A few years ago I was about to sail with one of those weekend warriors for the first time. As we walked down the dock he bemoaned the fact that he couldn’t get regular crew, so he always had new people on board who didn’t know the boat. After the first 10 minutes of the race, I knew why.
This bloke was a shouter who was steering all over the course while he micro-managed what was happening in the cockpit and the foredeck. Frankly, it wasn’t much fun.
Contrast this with someone like Paul Clitheroe, the owner of the Beneteau 45 Balance. A friend of mine crews for Paul, and he tells the story of his first race on board. Paul took him aside and quietly explained, “There are two things we don’t do on this boat. We don’t shout, and we don’t glare.”
Instead, everyone is allowed to get on with their job, and any problems are handled quickly and calmly. Sailing on Balance is fun, so the same guys come back over and over.
Two issues ago, I raised the subject of a slight fall-off in Youth numbers. In 2011 we lost 500 more kids from the sport than we managed to bring in. Could that be because they weren’t having fun?
The Tinnaroo Sailing Club in Queensland was suffering from falling numbers a few years ago. The local kids just didn’t want to sail interminable windward/leewards for three hours on a Saturday afternoon. So the club brought in a new, sexier-looking boat, started racing figure-eights and had freestyle, mast climbing and boom walking competitions. Suddenly numbers swelled - because the kids were having fun.
Reading the class nationals reports in the previous issue and in this one, it is obvious which classes are attracting big numbers and which are manned by a small group of die-hards who keep doing things the way they’ve always been done.
So what’s happening at your club and in your class?
Do the big boats go off on the same course every week, do the same boats win, is the prize-giving the same excruciatingly boring interruption of your post-race drinks?
Do the off-the-beach classes get sent out at the same time every week, to float around and wait for the wind before doing three hours of sausage course racing, which the same people win?
Some people like sameness. There is a sense of familiarity about set routines. And if those people are in the majority, and they’re attracting new people who are also happy to do the same thing every week, by all means keep doing it.
But if your club or class has stagnated then why not try something different? Why not have a meeting and ask the members how you can put a bit more fun into the weekend’s activities?
Because if we’re not having fun yet, why are we still doing it?
This was first published in Australian Sailing + Yachting April-May 2012.
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