Why is it assumed that have more and better sailing events on television will automatically translate into more people buying sailboats and going racing?
This is a thread that regularly pops up her and on SA (and probably on other sailing forums too); it's a great topic to discuss, but is it based on fact? I have no idea.
But let's go back to the golden age when the sport wasn't in decline (can some one tell me when that was?). In any case there was no TV coverage and racing was no more a spectator sport then than it is now. So what happened?
IMHO one part is in the advance of technology and the costs associated with ‘keeping up’ and there's time and the lack of it. There are lots of other possible reasons but I'll stick to these.
When I started serious racing (Annapolis Wednesday night series) back in 1980 I had just boat a C&C 40 with that had been set up for racing. It was one of a large class of what were called ‘racer-cruisers’. At that time electronics were minimal – by today’s standards, the high-tech sail material and lines were not available and most of the specialized racing hardware had yet to be invented. What all that meant was that you could take almost a stock boat (usually it was called the tall rig or racing version) and take it out and race it and if you were good, place high or win without having to spend a fortune on sails and equipment.
Now I have to admit I won’t race if I can’t be competitive. What I mean is if I sail a good race I can place high or win. I wouldn’t want to race a boat that had no chance of winning no matter how well it was sailed. So for racing, For racing we’d strip the boat of cruising equipment , pump out a lot of the water from the tanks and off we’d go. Every so often, a couple of us would put on our tanks and clean the bottom. And so after a couple of years of practice and racing with my crew, Satisfaction began placing at the top of the fleet. As technology developed, we added new hardware and elec tronics but no bank-breakers. Then things changed with the advent of Kevlar sails. To be competitive they were a must and they were expensive and the early ones weren’t particularly durable so they had to be replaced every couple of years. This involved thousands of dollars and when the kids started college, I just couldn’t afford it. What I did was drop down to a less ’serious’ racing club and continued but as has been pointed out elsewhere, there’s always someone who will turn friendly ‘beer can’ racing into blood sport. But the problem remains -- to become and remain competitive is now a very expensive proposition and I haven’t even mentioned the expense of docking or mooring the boat and ordinary maintenance which can run thousands of dollars a year.. I believe that the high and continuing expenses have deterred many people from the sport.
Then there’s the time factor and I don’t mean just time spent racing and setting the boat up for racing. One reason that Satisfaction did so well is that we practiced evenings after work. It took a year before were started really functioning as a team. To do this we spent 6-10 hours a week beyond racing in practice – you should have seen our first attempt to deploy the LifeSling, it would have taken a prize on funniest home videos. But that was time away from everything else, family, kids and in today’s ultra-busy world a lot of people can’t make that commitment, especially if they don’t live close to their boats.
Then there’s another aspect of the problem. To race you need to have some sort of race committee. The race committee has to spend time setting up the race, meeting with skippers, overseeing the race (committee boat) and arbitrating any protests. And while there are probably more thankless jobs, I can’t think of them off-hand. I wonder how many races get called off and possibly programs abandoned because no one was willing to serve on a race committee.
Would more/better television coverage help any of this? I don’t see how. What we need to do is first get kids into sailing, there are lots of programs out there but IMHO the best way is to take them out on our boats and teach them. Some will love it and some will not. For those who do there needs to be some outlet where they can sail and necessarily racing sailing dinks (which is what I did). Problem with learning by racing at that age is that winning becomes more important than sailing and the ones who consistently lose will just drop out probably forever.
IMHO that if we get kids to love sailing, some of them will become racers. After that we need to do something so people can afford to race. Maybe classes that limit the racing improvement on a boat – but I don’t know. And there’s still the time problem – to many other things to do and the need for racing committees. But better media coverage ? With what’s going on may we should consider Court TV . Anyway all we’ll get out of TV is nautically-oriented coach potatoes.
We brought our kids up on our boat and now they have sailboats and sometimes we all cruise together in our own little flotilla. But the excitement of racing never appealed to them.
As for me and my wife, well we have a plan -- two-to three more years and we’re out of here. We bought a boat for coastal cruising and island hopping. She’s also capable of blue-water cruising but my wife isn’t up to crossing oceans, at least not yet. In any case we have the entire western hemisphere and the Caribbean to explore.
So since we bought Enchantress, I’ve pretty much given up racing. Instead my wife and I spend our time making Enchantress over into our perfect cruising boat and learning everything we can about how to handle her. But y’know there are still times when I miss the excitement of the race.