I just finished reading a hell of a book, Saving Sailing, by Nicholas D. Hayes (savingsailing.com.) Literally, I just put it down after bursting through the pages, only slowing down to take some notes, drink more coffee, and let the dog out.
This article will be one part in a three-part series that I will write leading up to my interview of the Author of the book in early February at the National Sailing Programs Symposium (NSPS) in Houston, TX. That being said, these articles hopefully just serve as a catalyst for you to post comments and questions you would like me to ask the Author when I interview him.
I have become interested in the issue of "Saving Sailing" for a while now having coached and sailed competitively growing up, but it all came to a head at a race just before Thanksgiving at my local yacht club in Austin TX. I had brought a group of my friends, mostly non sailors to help me crew on my J-24, and we were ages 23-28, white, and male. After the races there were some refreshments and food at the club, and we decided to head in and grab some goodies.
Perhaps it was the fact that I had brought new sailors, and I was thinking about what the whole experience was like through their eyes, but I couldn't help but become increasingly aware that we were surrounded by OLD.....WHITE.....MEN. I can confidently say that we were 20+ years younger than any person in that room. Now, I am friends with many of the old guys at the club and really appreciate their love for the sport, and their old saltiness that I hope to accrue in my own time, but to our culture as a whole their is nothing less cool than OLD....WHITE....MEN.
I bring this fact up to touch a nerve. I am well aware that I brought out YOUNG....WHITE....MEN and eventually we will be OLD....WHITE....MEN. My observation that day is only a microcosm of the larger state of the sport in the US, as I found in Hayes' book: "The vast majority of today's American sailors are white men, aged 45 to 65 years old (p. 219)."
Now there is nothing inherently wrong with OLD...WHITE....MEN. The problem is the trap that the OLD WHITE MEN fall into, its an attitude that Hayes touches on in his book. The problem as Hayes sees it is that the men in this age group do not take advantage of their mentoring opportunities to bring others into the sport, instead opting to "check out," and believing that they are just not "in that stage in life." I can see how a man at this age would opt out having accomplished career goals, having kids, etc. Why put the responsibility on themselves of bringing others in and teaching them a complicated sport?
The problem is this: If these OLD WHITE MEN represent the majority of the current sailing population, and they are unwilling to teach and inspire others, what will happen to the sport in the years to come? It will shrink, just as Hayes has found that sailing participation has shrunk by 40% since 1997, and by 70% since 1979.
I know this sailgroove article will likely not reach many of the OLD...WHITE....MEN that are the focus of this article. That being said I think there is something that us younger sailors of all races and genders can do for these OLD WHITE MEN that are the majority of the sport (besides showing them how to get on the internet): Take the first step and ENCOURAGE THEM and give them the confidence to mentor younger sailors.
How does this happen? I believe that it happens in realizing that these OLD WHITE MEN, are cooler than our culture gives them credit for. I did my first Chicago to Mackinac Race with 6 other OLD WHITE MEN that I didn't know, in a J-35, named "Touch of Grey" (Yes like the Grateful Dead Song). You would be surprised to hear the stories they had and the stories they made during the race. Even years later after I stopped sailing with them I saw that they had replaced me with another young guy, who was a senior in high school with limited sailing experience.
Hayes says that the older guys need to make the first step, but I think the younger generation can also make a step up and encourage these old salts that they have something valuable to pass on to a younger generation.
Please post any questions you would like me to ask the author, related or unrelated to this topic below. Also I am trying to set up interviews with Gary Jobson, President of US Sailing, and Dawn Riley, new director of the new Oakcliff Sailing Center just outside of NYC, in the coming weeks to add to the Changing the Sport Series, so post other questions you have for them below. Thanks!