01 May 2021
Nick Hayes wrote an insightful book, “Saving Sailing.” He looked at sailing and other sports and hobbies and what has caused a decline in these activities.
I will try to summarize his findings: Leisure activities that are learned through inter-generational participation become life-long passions. I sailed at a very early age with my father, my kids and some with my grandfather. Sailing has become a life-long passion for me.
There are more kids participating in sailing now than when I was a kid. But few of them stick with sailing. Why? This participation consists of being dropped off at a sailing school, learning to sail, then going home. At the end of the lessons, there is no next step. The family is not involved beyond transportation to lessons which doesn't lead to future opportunities and inspiration.
It's the same with soccer. Millions of kids play soccer but few continue in the sport past youth teams.
Another example Nick gave was fishing. Fishing for me was going out in a rowboat with dad or grandpa and dangling a worm. I'm sure this is still the way a lot of kids go fishing. But there has been a glorification of the tournament fishing. Big purses and TV shows are now a huge part of the sport. Dad wants to be a part of this so buys a sparkly bass boat with a huge motor and all the gear. He is certain to wear the right clothes and have a truck big enough to tow the boat. The simple pleasures of dangling a worm with the kids may get lost in the hype. I sure hope not.
Nick called the participation that just involved showing up a “charted experience.” You get exactly what you expect when you drop your kids off at sailing school, a few hours of lesson. Going to Disney World is a charted experience. You just show up (and pay a lot) and you get the Disney Buzz. It is fun but let's face it, you don't have to expend any effort or imagination. And when it's over, it's over except for some memories.
Compare a trip to Disney with a canoeing or backpacking vacation with the family. These families will make their own experiences, not just be present for them. Nick didn't come up with a term for this opposite of the chartered experience. Let's call it an “earned experience.” One has to become intimately involved in a canoeing or backpacking trip.
It has been six years since I was at the Annapolis Boat Show. A few years ago, another sailor told me she knew people going to the show, just to meet the Youtube sailing bloggers! I was shocked. I go to see my sailing friends, hit a few seminars and drool over the cool sailing stuff on display. I could care less about Youtube sailors and what they cooked for dinner, but it sure is a thing.
I recently talked with a cruising, sailing school instructor. He said the majority of his work is teaching people who have never sailed before, who have bought cruising catamarans, to sail their own boats. These people spent up to $1/2 million on a boat and didn't know how to sail. And they were ALL inspired by Youtube channels. Talk about a chartered experience. They see the Youtubers living the life and think all they need to do is buy a boat like theirs. Voila! Oh, let's pay for a week of lessons just to get it right. The instructor told me he can teach them to drive a boat but that's not sailing.
Let me give a recent example. A few weeks ago we came across a boat that was aground. They had the sails sheeted in tight. We dinghied up to the boat and asked if we could help. They said, “No, as soon as the tide goes up, we will just shoot forward and be off the bottom. I mentioned as diplomatically as possible that the boat will not go forward until there is some speed over the keels. It would just be pushed sideways into the shallower water. They were oblivious to what I mentioned so we just motored away and wished them luck.
We know a handful of zero to cruising, cruisers who are very competent sailors. I can assure you they were motivated by far more than a Youtube channel. The ones I know really dedicated themselves to learning all they could and taking it slowly. They mixed with other cruisers and learned from them. They had no delusions that the mere purchase of a boat made them a cruiser.
But that's not the current trend as I was informed and what I am observing in the Bahamas. Our return to the Bahamas has shown us an influx of new cruisers. We have talked with a few. We always introduce ourselves to boat anchored nearby. These new, inexperienced cruisers don't mix very well. One told us with pride, “We are buddy boating.” We have seen them and others since who are in lock step with their buddy boat. How much they are missing by not expanding their experiences with other cruisers and local people. Lynn Pardee warned, “As a single person or couple, you are approachable by local people. As two couples, you have your own thing going and won't be approached.”
I recommend that all new sailors learn to sail a small boat. It can be a Sunfish or something larger. I suggest it be a tiller steered boat with a main and jib. Once you learn to handle that boat with proficiency, you will have strong, basic sailing skills. Spend a few thousand dollars on a Flying Scot or similar. These boats are great fun to sail and sensitive to “feel” sailing. Most of us started sailing this way, did some racing and sailed on a variety of boats. That's how we progressed to buy the boat that is now our life and home. It is an earned experience that is quite rewarding.
If you are a Youtube newbie sailor, I hope you are not offended by what I am writing. Why not take a step back and learn the basics of sailing? Make it your earned experience to love for a lifetime. Sailboats are slow, why hurry? Learn for yourself what sailing is all about, not just what other people tell you it is about. There is plenty of room out here and it is a life I sure recommend for all who dedicate themselves to go to sea.