“…and the livin’ is easy.” Ella Fitzgerald’s 1968 masterpiece sums up the youth sailing scene around the world this week. Out in Newport Beach at the fabulous Balboa Yacht Club, it’s the Youth Match Racing World Championships whilst down in Italy, at the sublime Lake Garda it’s the Waszp European Games. And in the UK, down in Plymouth, we have the RYA Youth Nationals. What a great scene everywhere.
Youth sailing is an enormous privilege and it’s wonderful to see it flourishing. As rites of passage go, you have to go and do it whether it’s straight after your school exams, mid or post University – whatever – it’s the only worthwhile pursuit. Doing the circuit, sleeping in campervans or dodgy AirBnB’s on a shoestring is all par for the course. As are warm beers on the beach in the evening, terrible attempts at cooking, cadging petrol money, wetsuits that will just simply never dry, lost rash vests, stolen team gear (the Danish kit is highly prized apparently) and sailing chatter until lights out – and then the real fun begins and all bets are off. Marvellous fun.
Sailing friendships that transcend into mainstream are being forged right now that will last a lifetime and life-skills are being learned that are invaluable. For years to come you will be bumping into friends all over the world and you’ve got a secret code of experience – “let’s not talk about that time in Garda shall we?” And Italian customs? No sweat – smile, be polite, point at your Waszp and sail on through. Not sure about an on-the-water ruling in Balboa? Cool, go and speak to any number of rules gurus and international sailors – they’ll sort you out.
…and whilst waiting for racing, entertain the committee by doing back-flips off the transom. Brilliant. Youth at play doing what they should be doing and the race committee were scoring the attempts – Tom Daley has nothing to fear.
Youth sailing is where it’s at and what’s encouraging is that the sport has a fabulous pipeline of sailing talent coming through and pathways are there for those that want to progress. Plus there are great people doing good things for our sport on the organisational front and putting back in many times more than what they take out. That’s to be applauded and we should be encouraging young adults to have the greatest amount of fun that they can. Let them be young, carefree and develop at their own pace.
As one that has long railed against the over-coaching of the youth squads and bemoaned the inevitable fall-out that happens when the Optimist fleets hit puberty and the parental over-support is not welcomed anymore, I am cautious of coaching and pushing beyond ability. I know it works and I know brilliant, outstanding coaches all over the world but remember it’s not for everyone. Self-learning and self-development is just as vital. Over-coaching is dire but the really good coaches know exactly when to back off.
Whilst the pathway boats to the Olympic Games are dominated by cliques, it’s classes like the Waszp – the renegade class – that were set up to bring the fun back into the sport. But worryingly at the European Games, the coach boats are finding their way to the top ten and I ask whether that’s a good thing. Inevitable yes as the class heats up, but good? Not sure.
Clearly the Waszp is starting to be seen as a pathway boat – if not THE boat – for the next generation Olympic classes. Single-handed foilers simply will have to replace the dated Laser/ILCA at some point. It’s not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when.’ The class most probably thinks “oh no” but it’s a huge compliment – everyone is watching the Waszps.
The problem with Olympic status is that it tends to kill classes. Suddenly what was fun, is now professional, and I wonder whether the Waszps want that. I really hope that if the class does get swatted on the Olympic paddle – then it takes steps to mitigate the downside of having uber-professionalism and big money flowing in so as to keep the travelling circus, the campervans and the young adults having fun. I’m sure they will find a way as a more progressive class would be hard to find anywhere in sailing. But the next few years are going to see more and more people in the class – the European Games had a swarm of 88 Waszps and that’s saying something on a start-line.
And what of the match racers? Well the discipline is still highly relevant and what a hoot the Youth Worlds look over in Newport Beach. Nice to see an international feel to the regatta and the racing is tight, sometimes too tight as there’s been a bit of gear damage, but close, hard racing in equally matched boats is hard to better. Congratulations to the organisers and the Balboa Yacht Club for putting on the show.
And one final thing that caught my eye on the youth scene…just how young are some of the crews completing the Rolex Fastnet Race? Great to see. The RORC Commodore, James Neville, came ashore surrounded by a dynamite team of youthful expression and you can see in their faces just how hard they were willing to work to try and win. Outstanding stuff.
But the last laugh went to Tom Kneen’s JPK 11.80 Sunrise who scooped the coveted overall Fastnet Challenge Cup as winner after absolutely belting the IRC Two division. Tom is the first British winner of the race since Sir Charles Dunstone and his maxi Nokia Enigma in 2003.
“I’ve had 24 hours to reflect on the race after we finished yesterday, and it really is all about the people, the amazing team that sailed with me, and my incredible partner Francesca who has done so much to make this happen.”
Tom’s only been at the offshore game for a modest seven years as he says refreshingly: “I didn’t know what IRC was. I’d never really heard of the RORC – (oh Tom, heaven’s forfend) -but what I had heard of was the Rolex Fastnet Race. It doesn’t really matter what level in the fleet you’re at. As long as you have a good crew, and the right support, then you can win your class. And if you can win the class you can win overall, although that depends on things like tidal gates, wind conditions, things that are much more in the hands of the gods.”
Well Tom, the Gods were smiling on you and your name will forever be etched on that trophy and on the boards just off the Royal Yacht Squadron platform. You’re up there in that rarefied company forevermore. “Glory days,” as Bruce Springsteen sang, “they’ll pass you by,” but whilst they last, just like in the Waszps, the Match Racers and the Youth Nationals they are there to be enjoyed.
Savour it. Suck it all in. What a summer heh?