Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Saving Sailing - Winter Reading

I'm planning on building a wooden Optimist with my seven-year-old son this winter. I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to make a real racing class sailboat, but after studying the hull specs I became a bit disheartened - there are 5o measurement points and tolerances as tight as 2mm. So, I'm going to build one to Clark Mills' original plans from 1947. The Optimist was supposed to be the sailing equivalent of a soapbox derby racer. It's not impossible to build one to race, but I wouldn't call it a father/son project. The original purpose of the dinghy seems to have been lost.

In a conversation about the Optimist with my brother who races out of GYC, we got on the topic of "Saving Sailing" by Nicholas Hayes. It sounded like an compelling topic for a book, so I thought I could share it here at the OOYR page for anyone (like me) who was unaware of it.

--Kyle L.

A review of "Saving Sailing" by Carol Standish at Main Harbors:
Available at this link: Amazon

Casual sailors may not have noticed but devoted sailors and the businesses which support the activity are painfully aware that “in the last ten years, Americans have abruptly stopped sailing. Nick Hayes is a market researcher by profession. He is also an avid sailor. Over the course of half a lifetime of sailing he became aware that fewer people were involved in his particular passion so he applied his professional skills to the matter. Beginning in 2003, he interviewed more than 1200 sailors worldwide and analyzed their responses. Saving Sailing is the result of that work.
Participation is down more than 40% since 1997 and 70% since 1979. Less than 1% of Americans remain self-described sailors. They are doing less of it and are enlisting fewer newcomers.”
Searching for reasons for this trend, Hayes acknowledges the impact of the current economic situation but points out the decline in sailing has been going on for more than three decades in good economic times and bad. He also gives a nod to demographics. People in the age group between 30 and 45 years old have declined 15% while the number of people over 51 has increased 25%. But these figures don’t explain such a precipitous decline, either. The perception that sailing is for the rich and boats and water access are not affordable for the average family, has been doused with cold water in the form of fiberglass boats and boat clubs since the late 1950s.
In 24 short, crisp chapters alternating between real life accounts of individual sailing experiences and chapters of contextualized analyses of those real life examples, Hayes lays out the problem and offers basic, achievable and uncomplicated solutions.
Hayes argues that the family unit which used to provide intergenerational mentors has dispersed primarily because of the centralization of economic opportunity in cities.
Families disperse; commuting eats up more and more parental time. And family entertainment increasingly consists of solitary, passive activity such as TV and electronic toys. Activities that do require group interaction and cooperation such as team sports are further divided by age. Parents of children participating in team sports are relegated to the bleachers as fans.
What’s missing is the role of the mentor, once a family member or family friend who possesses the skill and ardor for an activity and passes on both emotional charge and the technical skill. The diminishing number of sailors, Hayes argues, is the result of the absence of mentoring. Anyone can learn to sail. Learning to love sailing must be passed on by a lover of sailing. It cannot be taught by seasonal hirelings (no matter how knowledgeable or charming) who will shepherd a fleet of Opti novices through a summer’s worth of tactics while parents watch from the dock.
Hayes has multiple family friendly solutions to the problems he has identified. We work hard to “earn free time,” he says. In spite of being a nation of workaholics, “we can choose how we ‘spend’ up to 55% of our waking hours.”
I personally recommend this unpretentious little book across the board. You don’t need to be a sailor to enjoy and benefit from it. Hayes offers simple, concrete, “totally non-preachy” suggestions to help us take our lives back, to choose to value “time” over “things”, to help keep us from nickel and diming our ourselves to death.

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