June Notes from Commodore



Converting Novice Sailors to Active Ones

At sailing clubs around the country this summer, many will try sailing for the first time or work to advance their skill set.  Some will be hooked from the first experience, others will come to love the sport over time, and a few will complete a class or camp and decide sailing is not for them.  Those who are hooked from the beginning often love the freedom, challenge and exhilaration the sport provides.  I identify most with the group of sailors who live for racing and regatta weekends. 


Another group of sailors will come to love the sport over time. Although the reasons may vary, I believe the common thread is relational coupled with fun.  Kids crew for their parents or for each other.  Husbands (or wives) introduce their spouse to the sport.  Members invite their friends to join them on the water.  Whatever the relationship, the social side of sailing is critical to the sport’s growth.  We’ve seen this evidenced first-hand at both the junior and adult levels at Atlanta Yacht Club (AYC).


Like most clubs, we offer Learn to Sail and Learn to Race classes in Optis for youth sailors.  Some kids participate in these classes for several years before they are age-eligible to attend AYC’s Junior Week. Similar to programs at many other clubs, our Junior Week consists of lots of on-the-water and off-the-water fun and activities.  Relationships are strengthened and often passion for sailing is born.  We’ve seen it time and time again.  A few of our club’s top 20-something skippers and crew who pretty much grew up at AYC didn’t have much interest in sailing until they participated in our club’s Junior Week!


We know what works for juniors.  Does the same hold true for adult sailors?  In our experience, the answer is a resounding YES!  We’ve been running an Adult Learn to Sail class for many years.  Few students took advantage of our offer to stick around and sail with members in the afternoon.  This changed last year when we decided to have our fleets get to know the students by inviting them to lunch and afternoon of fun sailing following class.  Now, nearly all the class participants stay for fleet sailing.   A number of them are pursuing membership, and more importantly, they are sailing on a regular basis.


Our concentrated effort to reach out to the Adult Learn to Sail students is having a positive effect on our fleet members as well.  Because we need skippers and boats to take out the class participants, members show up in full force.  For example, earlier this month, we hosted 95 people for lunch and had 66 people out on the water in 18 Thistles!  (Compare this to a typical summer weekend, where we may have 16-22 people in 6-8 boats.)  To see a short video of the afternoon’s activities, created by a prospective club member, click here.


Interestingly, in his book Saving Sailing, Nick Hayes identified middle-aged women as a key demographic for sailing growth. The lead instructor for our Adult Sailing Class just confirmed our current class is the first in club history where there are more women participants than men.


Now, more than ever before, we must interconnect social and fun with sailing to grow the sport!

Bryce Dryden


South Atlantic Yacht Racing Association