Here in NZ, the sailing clubs are putting their thinking caps on to find a way to get people back into clubs. The racing classes seem to have fragmented the sailing population, young and old, as people have to choose between buying expensive equipment or moving to a different club, or giving up altogether. All of which stalls the participation in the club scene.
I got so much out of sailing dinghies in a club as a junior and youth. I still do as a senior, both physically and socially. Now more than ever I appreciate the benefits of getting outdoors or going sailing during winter, after sitting here in lockdown, unable to go sailing.
When you are dinghy sailing every anxious thought or pent up frustration is suddenly directed towards manoeuvring and handling a boat planing along the water, trying to keep the boat upright and travelling fast. Dinghy sailing is an aerobic workout: the core and leg muscles are working constantly to balance yourself as you work to balance the boat. The muscles of the hands and arms work as you work the sail and the ropes, and control the steering.
We used to hold regional mixed class regattas. They were popular because they were so much fun. And the best thing about it was you could turn up with whatever boat you had. Fathers and mothers sailed as well as the children. The young sailors saw a variety of classes they could aspire to progress to, and everyone benefited from the social interaction. We just got on the water and raced. We raced our boats around islands, stakes, reefs, and markers using either Mark Foy starts or handicapping.
By having regattas away from the main sailing centres, people got to travel, which really appealed to many people. Local economies benefited from these regattas as people stayed overnight. For example, a regatta was held on Lake Rotorua, in the North Island, a town which is very geared towards tourism. Such towns may be even more appreciative now that much travel and tourism has been halted. Is this an opportunity?
There was also less emphasis on high performance, and more emphasis on the grass roots. I remember an amazing sailor who was past his heyday teaching us how to use a spinnaker well. He gave up his time for us – it was his passion. Whether anyone reached Olympic level or not, we learnt how to start and race in fleets. We would not have got those skill levels had we not travelled to regattas around the country. And for those that didn't reach Olympic level they had great fun, and stored great memories. This will always help the sport in the long term.
So for the clubs, parents, sailing class associations and sponsors out there, perhaps it is time to bring back some of the old ways: more participation, broader experiences, more fun and less emphasis on competition?
Stay safe and have fun on the water
About Melinda Henshaw
I am a passionate sailor and coach – I teach sailing for a sailing club in Auckland and for Sailability Auckland where we have mateship, sailing, racing and learning. I raced the 470 at the 2000 Sydney Olympics against Jenny Armstrong and Belinda Stowell Brett.
I import TIWAL Sailing Dinghies, a simple, portable sailboat which makes going sailing easy and cost effective. Go to www.tiwal.nz for learn to sail, race tips and to check out the easiest form of sailing ever!