I never wanted to be a sailboat racer. Like most devout cruisers, I disdained the aggressive world of close-quartered competition where people yell at each other on the water to assert right of way. But roughly 20 years ago I found myself wanting to see what the fuss was all about, so one weekend I went to a skippers meeting for the areas biggest regatta and through a few unexpected connections, I wound up sailing aboard one of the most competitive boats at the event. The ensuing three days of intense but enjoyable racing turned out to be a transformational experience, and now I cant get enough of the sport.
Here at SailNet, we receive "Ask the Experts" inquiries on a regular basis, posing the question how do I get involved in sailboat racing? If youre a non-racing sailor who has been giving some thought to thisto joining the ranks of the folks having fun going around the buoys or racing point-to-pointread on: heres how to get started.
Right off the bat, lets debunk the myth that you have to join a yacht club to go racing. Im living proof that this just isnt so. In 20-plus years of racing sailboats, Ive only once been a member of a yacht club, and that was a club that existed only on paper (as well as in the hearts of two dozen fun-loving sailors). Dont get me wrong; Ive got nothing against yacht clubs. These institutions support racing in a vital way, but the truth is you dont have to join one in order to participate in the sport. That said, hanging out with the folks who are members of a yacht club is often the fastest way to get involved in racing, especially if you dont own a boat. But there are other approaches.
Depending upon where you live, theres likely to be either a community sailing center, a sailing association, or a yacht club in your area. These groups either organize, participate in, or are aware of the racing activity that transpires in that area, so getting touch with them will give you an immediate overview of the racing landscape. Many of these organizations can be contacted on line. The easiest way to do that is to make use of the database of sailing organizations maintained by US SAILING, the national governing body for the sport. You can conduct a search on their website following this string: http://www.ussailing.org/commercial/getstarted.htm and look under Where to Learn.
Once youve gotten in touch with an actual person within the appropriate organization in your area, you should ask questionsas many as possibleso that you quickly get an idea of the opportunities available. What size boats race, when, and where? Is insurance required? Is membership required? And if youre attempting to get aboard someone elses boat as crew: what personal equipment should you bring?
Say you live in the Boston, MA, area, for example, Community Boating, Inc., (www.community-boating.org) can be great source for information as well as on-the-water opportunity. This organization not only offers a schedule of informal races with their fleet of boats located on the Charles River, but the folks here can provide lessons and referrals to other opportunities in the region. Or say you live in the San Diego, CA, area. Before your head starts spinning due to the overwhelming number of yacht clubs and sailing organizations there, cut to the quick by doing some research on the web at www-ccs.ucsd.edu/~erika/wyrf/san_diego.html. The comprehensive list of organizations and businesses kept there will give you a look at a variety of opportunities for getting involved in racing.
Unless youre a super Type-A person who thrives on mano-a-mano competition, I recommend you try to identify the most casual, least intense arena of racing as your first foray into the sport. Usually that activity can be found in the form of weeknight, beer-can races, where once a week sailors get out on the water after work and race one or two short races with no more at stake than bragging rights at the bar afterward. In Charleston, SC, an organization called Charleston Ocean Racing Association runs races every Wednesday evening from early June to late August and sporadically throughout the year. The organization maintains a website with a list of member skippers (along with their phone numbers) and wanna-be crew (
www.sailnet.cora), so its an easy way for newcomers to get involved.
The organizations Ive mentioned here are just a random sample of some of the opportunities available for entry-level racers. Once you start digging into it, youll see that its really not that difficult to find a way to try out sailboat racing. Youve simply got to put that first foot forward and keep your expectations in checkyou never know what will appeal to you until you try it. Good luck and good racing.
Suggested Reading List
- Should Children Race by Michelle Potter
- What You Need to Know About Sailing Instructions by Dan Dickison