May Notes from Commodore

The 2017 sailing season is well underway, and I personally could not be more excited, but not for my normal reasons. You see, competition is in my DNA. I was hooked on racing from a very young age. I grew up racing in the Sears Cup, collegiately, and on the Thistle and Laser traveling circuits. As much as I love racing, I have discovered a new passion -- sharing my love of sailing with others.


A couple of years ago, I received a copy of Nick Hayes’ book Saving Sailing. It details why participation in sailing has declined 40% in the past 20 years, and ways we can reverse the trend. Families are actively searching for activities to do together. Sailing is a great solution. The easiest way to introduce these families is through direct invitation, modeling, and continued mentoring.


Last year, our family took this advice to heart and made a list of the people we knew who had expressed interest sailing as well as ones who we thought would enjoy it. During the first day of racing last year, we invited a family of five to join us. They didn’t want to split up, so we adapted on the spot and sailed with seven people on a boat designed for three! It was quite a sight. More importantly, we had a TON of fun because everyone was together. Having seen our guests’ excitement on the water, we came to realize that our family’s approach to sailing would be fundamentally different than in years past. 


In addition to inviting families to join us for the day, we delayed our daughter’s March birthday celebration until May so that we could have it at the lake. We invited her friends to come sail with us for the day. In the middle of one of the races, one of my daughter’s friends yelled at the top of her lungs, “This is the best birthday party ever!” Again, this caught our family’s attention. 


Activity is contagious and momentum breeds momentum. Our club has also been increasing its marketing efforts to generate interest in the club. One day last July, a dad and his two teenage daughters entered the club grounds to check it out. They found our family, and after talking with them for a few minutes, we knew they would be a great addition to the club. While they had not planned on sailing, we quickly found life jackets and invited them to sail with us. They had a great time…so much so that the family joined this year and are on the water just about every weekend.


Our adult learn-to-sail class has generated new members as well. Last year, each fleet chose a day to sponsor lunch and crewing opportunities for members of the learn-to-sail classes. The participants welcomed the chance to join the afternoon races, and the experience helped to build their confidence.


Through our conversations with class participants, we learned that they were intimidated by the word “racing” as were several of our new members. Inspired by a retired Proctor & Gamble executive in Louisville, KY, we’ve begun promoting our weekend club races as a “rally mentality” instead of “racing.” We want newer people to view the “rally” as an organized way for people to sail at the same time. By sailing more frequently, their skill level increases. As their skill level increases, so will their appetite to race, and hopefully, then, they will want to start traveling to compete at a higher level. Our daily lives have enough pressure of their own, and the “rally mentality” helps people focus more on the fun of sailing and less on the pressure to perform.


This year, we have planned several “training” days for skippers and crew before the races. Already this season, I have jumped on board with both new and intermediate sailors to help with basic boat-handling skills, footwork and weight movement. As I am assisting them, I ask them to them teach the same lessons to others, knowing that teaching a skill helps to reinforce it. This approach is three-fold. It reinforces the lesson, creating a greater level of understanding; it helps to strengthen the relationships within our sailing community; and it fosters a healthy multiplier effect.


How are you approaching sailing this year? Are there people you know who would enjoy the sport? Then, step out of your comfort zone and make it a point to invite them to join you in the boat for the afternoon. Are there new members who are eager to get better? Offer yourself as a crew and share your knowledge with them, and challenge them to do the same with others down the road.


Make 2017 a memorable sailing season!

Bryce Dryden


South Atlantic Yacht Racing Association, 678-977-9777