Drop outs

Flicking, as I do, through the latest copy of Seahorse – and yes, like you I start from the classifieds at the back as ever day-dreaming about buying Rothmans for an ‘absolute snip’, I kid myself, at £190,000 – I came across a truly engaging article about dinghies that wrong-footed me in the world’s leading offshore racing magazine. Pictures of Fireballs with reasonable price tags and a 470 at just £700, it got me reading and kept me captivated on the loo for longer than is polite.

©KOS Picture Source / http://www.kospictures.com

The truly depressing statistic that was proffered was that 80% of kids who start out in the Optimist fleets, drop out in their teens or when the lure of life’s pitfalls (you know – the good stuff) befalls them. Some re-enter the sport but most get whooped up into examinations, grades and university entrance and from there, as we all know, it’s only a short fall to a desk job, mortgage, first home and weekends lost to mowing the lawn and fixing shelves before Arabella announces she’s pregnant. Sailing becomes a distant pastime – a memory of simpler days.

Where, as the Seahorse editors rightly say, the problem lies is in the parental determination to produce the next Ben Ainslie or Hannah Mills and the incessant demand on racing. What happened to just sailing? The 4×4’s, the private RIBs, the expensive coaching staff, the relentless circuit around the country to puddles in the Midlands and the iffy B&Bs. No wonder little Johnny gets utterly bored of it all, sick to the back teeth of valuable weekends missed in front of the Xbox, football in the park, a sneaky vape or a can of cider with mates in town and other equally worthwhile, essential, teenage pursuits whilst Mum & Dad pursue a middle-class vision of what they think good looks like.

©KOS Picture Source / www.kospictures.com

Where Mum & Dad get it wrong is pushing their kids into a pretty wet, uncomfortable sport where physicality, judgement, technique and concentration is rewarded and encouraged by people with whistles insisting that you tack or gybe on their command. The kids can’t wait to get off the water in the main away from this hellish experience. But when you look at the likes of Ainslie, Mills, Goodison, Roberston, Percy etc, what they had (and still have) is a quality that stands them out from the rest – you literally couldn’t get them off the water. They were addicted to it. Finish a race and then go for a further sail. Blast downwind for a laugh and to hell with coming ashore. The dinner was in the dog for those legends as they were growing up. Sailing was everything. And it’s in that free-practice that skills were honed, techniques that are un-teachable learned and reactions instilled that no coach in the world can even describe, let alone coach.

I was watching a video of Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas – two of the world’s top golfers – who grew up together in Florida and who described weekend fun sessions where they would use a driver to putt and a putter to drive. Why not? It was fun. But what they learned was invaluable. Control of the club, pace assessment, alignment, confidence etc etc and it’s no surprise that they can magic up a ‘wonder shot’ at will, ten years later on the pro circuit.

©KOS Picture Source / www.kospictures.com

But back to sailing and the Seahorse article where the costs of campaigning dinghies were brutally exposed. Dinghies are expensive and the ‘pathway’ boats are eye-watering. Sails are throw-away items and hulls last a season at best for the top of the top and the ambitious. It was like that back in my day but amplified further now. It doesn’t have to be this way for everyone and clubs are now in a period of soul searching to try and keep kids involved and marry their waters with boats. Seahorse found an excellent example of a French club that “cornered the market in Laser 4000’s” – unfashionable yes but who cares when you get great racing at a fraction of the price.

But my feeling is that kids should see sailing as a fun thing to do. Passage sailing with a picnic at the end sitting on a beach with your mates is the holy grail in my book. Exploring a Bay or a river estuary and finding a sandy stretch to run your boat up and forget about the micro scratches that knock 0.0001 of a knot off your upwind speed and give Dad a heart-attack. As kids come into the sport they need to be encouraged to sail and enjoy it – surfing off a wave on a broad reach with your heart in your mouth and spray in your hair is something of pure joy in a little dinghy and it doesn’t need a gybe around a buoy at the end of it – how about a tack around and a faster reach back?

©KOS Picture Source / http://www.kospictures.com.

Racing, as Seahorse opines, doesn’t have to be in ‘pathway’ boats like Optimists, 29ers, 420’s or Waszps. It can be just as happily conducted in a ‘non a la mode’ vessel and the genius concept of handicapping to age, ability and boat standard is one that has legs in my opinion. The Laser class have been very successful with their delineations of Master and Grand Master (I’m eyeing that flavour myself) and clubs up and down the country need a regeneration where those craft that are clogging up the garage or are lost in a barn somewhere are brought back to the local club and encouraged to get out there again.

Great article in a great magazine and food for thought. If you aren’t getting Seahorse you’re missing out – even if it’s just daydreaming about Rothmans or Gipsy Moth IV that’s “only” £165,000.

Click the link below to get the best deal on the magazine anywhere in the world. (And I’m not being paid to say that.)

4 thoughts on “Drop outs

  1. Great Fireball picture, must be a very Early Kos shot from c1981. Eddie Owen and Ossie Stewart sailing “Horizon Job” (No advertising allowed in those days!)

    They, along with Lawrie Smith and Andy Barker were the top dogs of Fireballs, 505’s, 470’s and many other classes in the late 70’s early 80’s. It would be interesting to know how much RYA coaching they had when they were young?????

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As always spot on!
    Far different era growing up in Santa Barbara in the ’70’s as I sailed/raced in most anything that floated and had sails with and against five other male teenagers as we constantly pushed each other to become better sailors in order to be able to beat the adults that we all looked up to.
    Most weekends throughout the year we raced Sabots, Lasers, Snipes, 470s and big boats and during the summer there was the Wet Wednesday Beer Can Series to breakup the weeks of just going out and sailing every day when I wasn’t maintaining my parent’s Ericson 39.
    We traveled up and down the West Coast with our Lasers in tow without parents/chaperones looking for competition in order to gauge ourselves against our peers.
    We all went on to have successful business careers and families while continuing to successfully race and sail.
    Over the past 40+ years I’ve bought, rehabbed, raced and sold upwards of twenty Thistles with the goal now being to find younger sailors that I can help to become active in the Thistle Class by putting them into a competitive Thistle for under $5k and financing them through the “Bank of Mike” as I pay it forward.
    Living just east of Sacramento in the Sierra Foothills in what I affectionately refer to as “Sailing Siberia” I’ve been a long-time subscriber to Seahorse Magazine as I consider it to be the absolute best sailing magazine!
    This past Sunday afternoon the family and I returned from a week’s vacation up in the Trinity Alps and awaiting me in the pile of nearly worthless mail was not one but two of the latest issues of Seahorse which meant I hustled to unload the Suburban so I could enjoy going through both issues later that evening. Like Christmas on July 4th!
    Keep up the fantastic writing! Mike

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting.

    In 1977 I built a Farr 3.7 (single-handed with a trapeze designed by Bruce Farr), It was a very unforgiving and difficult yacht and at the end of the year I swapped it for a Fireball.

    This Fireball was always an absolute joy to sail and I spent many happy seasons racing it. About 20 years later I found an immaculate Fireball (named lov-a-ball} for sale in a junk shop and bought it for $300 intending to get it mounted over the mantlepiece as the conversation piece.

    This didn’t happen. But the Fireball is arguably one of the best yachts ever. Seeing the red ball on the sail just makes me happy.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you so much for your kind words Mike, that’s the sort of thing that keeps us all hard at it. I too towed a Laser up and down 101 through the end of the 70s. Good times, especially the bar at Santa Cruz. The underwater one!

    Liked by 1 person

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