AC34’s Impact on Sailing

October 17, 2013 § 5 Comments

Was AC34 a success? Larry said it changed everything. And the sailing media frenzy wouldn’t have been bigger had Miley twerked from Oracle’s aft rail.

But the early results are trickling in, and measured on its impact on public interest in our favorite activity, this America’s Cup barely registered.

If you were going to try to learn more about sailing after seeing an AC34 race, you’d google “sailing.” So to find out how many people did, let’s look at Google Trends based on the word “sailing”.

Google Trends: "sailing"

Google Trends: “sailing”

The persistent downward trend in sailing is widely known and many good folks are doing their best to reverse it. But wouldn’t you expect an uptick at the end of 2013 when the AC34 was happening, followed by new subsequent interest? Focus on the past 12 months:

Google Trends: "Sailing", 2013

Google Trends: “Sailing”, 2013

That blip (A) in September is the news of Oracle’s win.

Now compare the last three years. 2013 is down from 2012 and 2011. The spike (C) in 2012 was the Olympics.

Google Trends, "sailing", 2013, 2012, 2011

Google Trends, “sailing”, 2013, 2012, 2011

I draw three conclusions from these data:

1.) Youtube doesn’t inspire participation any more than cable TV or broadcast. A few people buy tennis rackets right after Wimbledon, but the long term trend in the sport is unaffected. Moreover, people who #gosailing turn off their screens to do it.

2.) Old sailors are the majority of AC watchers, and our numbers are tanking. The opportunity was to engage new sailors, and it didn’t happen.

3.) Organizers and sponsors never understood the Facebook generation’s sailing aspirations and they either missed or deliberately dissed the new demographic that is leading a #sailingrevolution today.

Or, perhaps, it was how it appeared: an entertainment event; a spectacle meant to make viewers, as opposed to a teaching moment designed to inspire sailors.

But hey, those boats were awesome! Gimme somuthat trickle down.

A #sailingrevolution on SFBay

September 9, 2013 § Leave a comment

Anyone, any gender, any age, can sail anytime on San Francisco Bay because of amazing volunteers at organizations like Sailing Education Adventures. What are the keys? It’s fun, inclusive, affordable and challenging.

Visit http://www.sfsailing.org to sign up. #gosailing #sailingrevolution

Industry Kills. Sailing Doesn’t.

May 23, 2013 § 4 Comments

I’m sure no harm was meant when some sleepy editor let the phrase “sailing industry” slide into a piece about trends or boats or trickle down or some such thing, and the words became the de facto descriptor of our mode of recreation. According to Google, the phrase first appeared in 2007 a year before boat production in the US essentially shut down. Safe to assume that he or she didn’t give it a second thought, needing builders, brokers and sailmakers for income.

But now we need a new name.

It’s not simply a matter of semantics. Words have meaning, they take form, and they sometimes carry big risks. A recent online post lamented that the sailing industry fails its pros, who are unable to hone their craft year-round for lack of sufficient income from sponsors. It went on to suggest that we recreational sailors are obliged to ensure ample patronage, like some great Medici collective. Be honest, are you going to stay ashore so someone else can sail?

When industry goes egomaniacal, as ours is doing in San Francisco, boats become billboards and sailors are the low cost labor that move them into view, no matter the risks.

America's Cup Crash Kills

Source: NY Times

Following industry’s lead, most sailing media began the classic cycle of Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) after Andrew Simpson’s death while training aboard the AC72 Artemis. But the emotional outburst seems to be less about Simpson’s kids and wife, and more on the plight of the sailing industry. One blogger predicted the end of the line for catamaran makers. Another parroted that “any public relations is good public relations for the sport.” The most common retweet was it’s “a sad day for the sailing industry.” I just felt guilty, as if my fun had somehow contributed to a family’s sorrow.

Let’s face it; what they’re doing in San Francisco isn’t sailing. The on-the-bay display is unrecognizable to those of us that spend our free time under way. Early on, it was more like tuning into a space program; captivating, beyond day-to-day reality, and loaded with opportunity. Along the way it has lost all common sensibility; not because it isn’t thrilling, but because of how it is being industrialized. The course is deliberately square to fit on a TV screen. The crashes are live streamed. Footage of shredded, sinking carbon is backed with power chords and drum tracks. In this future, nobody will put down their tablet to pick up a tiller. That kind of sad, “they’ll never do this, but they won’t be able to turn their eyes” cynicism smacks of the WWF. Now that they’ve killed someone, why not move it to the Roman Coliseum?

NASCAR Crash Kills

Source: Huffington Post

If training on ultra dangerous boats like these had been framed and executed as a noble quest for a new, useful technology, to modernize transportation, to prove grand new inventions, to show how everyday people can do more, or to explore some new unexplored place, this tragedy might have been easier to explain. This was showmanship gone supernova. Turner turned Trump in a flaming Kenevil suit at Talladega. Opportunity lost. Now it’s all just risk.

Consider that NASA, when sending people to live on the space station, spares absolutely no expense to keep them alive. If you compare the unknowns of space travel with these huge experimental winged foilers, the metaphor is fair, but it ends there: Simpson was wearing a bike helmet and carrying a couple minutes of air in a can.

So the industry tail wags this dog.

Industry, by definition, is not what sailing is. Nor is sailing, by definition, an industry. All the costs to play games in sailboats doesn’t amount to a sliver of GDP. And, fun, whether theme park owners like it or not, is an externality, meaning it’s both free and priceless if want it to be. That is what makes it valuable and worth doing.

So let me suggest that anyone who cares about sailing — editors, advocates, participants, publishers, pros and amateurs — should begin calling it the sailing community instead of the sailing industry.

Why is this important?

  • Industry thinks it is the source of ideas. Community knows that people are.
  • Industry thinks it enables lifestyle. Community knows that friends and family do.
  • Industry thinks that money matters. Community knows that time and relationships matter more.

This isn’t to say that smart, spirited, innovative, entrepreneurial folks shouldn’t make a buck when they do something good for sailing and sailors. Every community has ample commercial enterprise. It is to say that when the community is the focus of those enterprises, everyone wins. Even the pros and their families.

As a community, we can make certain that this is Andrew Simpson’s legacy. But as an industry, expect more victims.

Filing a protest

June 9, 2012 § 2 Comments

Filing a protest

First published on SailingAnarchy.com, June 2012.

Never accept a meeting request when the executive’s assistant starts with “he would like to tell you his ideas.” I did it this time and got burned.

These are the ideas of the head of AC-34’s Event Authority, in a nutshell:

  1. The financiers are tiring of the spend.
  2. Professional sailors can’t make a living.
  3. There aren’t enough amateur sailors supporting this pyramid.

So this AC will invent new TV heroes to attract fans to fund year-round professional sailors, take the financiers off of the hook, and transfer the costs to an unwitting couch-bound audience duped into an overpriced hat and a junkmailbox crammed with offers from sponsors. “We’re building a new pyramid.”

Oh, and sailors should sit quiet and be pleased, “’cause you get the trickle down.”

« Read the rest of this entry »

At the Pinnacle of Sailing

April 25, 2012 § 10 Comments

AC34

Or, who’s bringing the beer and PB&Js to the AC34?

I’m interested in the America’s Cup in the same way that I am interested in a mission to Mars: it seems pretty cool. I’m aware that it’s happening, and if I happen upon an attractive headline, I’ll scan the article. Like many, I’m intrigued by the science and technology and I’m impressed by the speeds that the new boats are achieving.

Sure, there might be some eventual technology trickle down, and that’s something to look forward to. But frankly, the opportunity to buy something pales in comparison with the opportunity to experience something, and like nearly everyone else on this planet, I face the reality that I won’t experience anything like it. Ever.

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An Open Letter to Larry Ellison – Engage, Invest, Lead

October 1, 2010 § 1 Comment

This article first appeared in SailingAnarchy, in October, 2010.

Let’s cut right to it. I’ll make no judgment regarding boats or venues. I’m not qualified.

But I believe we have a common interest in sailing, and you are gearing up to invest in shoreside infrastructure and large scale marketing. Please consider this three step plan to make the most of AC34, submitted with highest respect and humility.

1.) Don’t wait for trickle down. Make it something we all do now, with you. Engage.

Link every sailing not-for-profit in the country to your project, and popularize the best ideas in the grassroots through a nationwide collaborative design and discovery effort. Within a year, the best ideas will find their way not just into your boat, but also into dinnertime and classroom discussions and practical use all over the country.

A mass remote boat building project that mirrors the work that you are doing will engage multiple generations, and may, in fact, provide you a new idea or two in return.

« Read the rest of this entry »

Immersion Sailing – CSC Shows How

April 1, 2010 § Leave a comment

First published in SpinSheet Magazine – April 2011

You’re probably reading this because you’re a sailor.

But imagine that you’re not a sailor. You’ve never done it, but always wanted to. You find a sailing club that supplies all the boats and all the equipment and free training to learn to sail and then use the boats as often as you want for about $25 bucks a month. Sound like a good way to start?

You arrive for your first lesson, pull on a supplied wetsuit, a PFD and a hiking harness and help rig a 15-foot planing dinghy with a high-tech high-roach main, a roller furling blade and an asymmetrical kite on a sprit. You’ve never sailed before, but you’re going to start by driving this turboed machine in a 20-25 knot San Francisco bay breeze.

I saw this happen last summer, while visiting the area talking about Saving Sailing. I was a guest crew on a training sail that was extreme sailing for most, but the first time ever for one of the students on board. In two hours, everyone drove, tacked, jibed, trimmed and hiked. We experienced long stretches of white-knuckle planing and capsized twice, so it was thrilling for me, a thirty-plus year veteran and a sport-boat lover. The instructor was excellent — a calm voice with an eye toward safety and big fun — and the students, one a college kid and the other 70-ish, were ready for more when it was over.

But there is more.

The Cal Sailing Club is everything you don’t expect about a teaching sailing organization. It provides immersion learning at its best, but it teaches far more than sailing skills.

There is no paid staff. Not one. There is no formal class schedule. If you want to learn to sail, you put your name on a calendar for the time that works for you, and a volunteer instructor tries to make the time work, first come, first serve. Volunteer teachers are rewarded for giving their time with reduced membership fees. There is no classroom, so most of the teaching happens on the water. And since it happens aboard these ultra fast boats and in big bay breeze, learning comes fast. It might take a newcomer only a handful of on-water classes to “qualify” to use the club’s boats anytime that they want. Training can go on as long as the student needs it to.

Once a Cal Sailing Club member feels confident enough to take and pass a safety and sailing test, they are not just a member with a right to boats, they are also welcome to take guests, but more importantly, to volunteer to teach other newcomers.

Think about that for a minute: you might have just started sailing a year ago, and now you’re teaching aboard a sailing rocket-ship in what might be called a “small craft advisory” in most parts of the world.

I must report that the Cal Sailing Club is an extreme outlier; they sit either on the farthest bleeding edge of innovation in sailing development and instruction, or, arguably, they do things the way they used to be done. Today’s typical sailing teaching organizations are far more structured, with indoor and outdoor curriculum, set schedules, a more conservative fleet and more docile prevailing weather, and paid professionals and coaches.

While it’s true that you will find excellent sailing graduates from both the super-structured schools and the Cal Sailing Club, this place is special in a radical way.

Its structure is highly productive and brilliantly self-sustaining.

Cal Sailing Club sees the sailboat and time on the water on one, as more than just a game or a hobby. Yes, members are immersed in sailing, but they are also equally immersed in giving, and in helping, and in building the organization. Therefore:

  • It has a very large, active and growing membership
  • It has very low operating costs – it pays rent and insurance and uses most of the rest of its membership funds to keep the shared equipment up-to-date
  • It can be very flexible: if a new boat or fun sailing technique comes along, Cal Sailing Club can put it into use immediately
  • All of its members are advocates, because they are also its teachers, repairmen/women, administrators and marketers.

I took two other important lessons from the visit.

1.) Immersion (sometimes called experiential) learning is, by far, the fastest and most effective method of learning. So I’ve recommitted to more time training under sail for my own sailing team, and in my own sailing advocacy. I’m going to reserve one night a week, all summer long, to take newbies and strangers sailing. The best way to learn to sail is to sail. But the greater lessons of sailing come from teaching others about sailing.

2.) Many of us learned and love to sail because it takes us to places that might be uncomfortable or even a bit scary. But we know them to be great places. Perhaps the greatest. So on Thursday nights, we’re leaving the dock rain or shine. And it’s gonna be great.

—-

If you’re near Berkeley, make sure to visit the Cal Sailing Club. And if you’re in Berkeley and plan to stay, join CSC today. http://www.cal-sailing.org/.

If you’re in Milwaukee on a Thursday, dock time is 5:30pm. I’ll supply the PFD. nickhayes@savingsailing.com.

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