Learning to Capsize

March 31, 2012 § 6 Comments

First published in Spinsheet Magazine – April 2012

Learning to Capsize

Any eight-year old in my town can learn to sail in the summer at the local, not-for-profit sailing center. The only pre-requisite is that the child has passed a swim test. On the first day of class, with just a few minutes of basic instruction, the kids put on life jackets, buddy up, climb into prams and are helped overboard in a slow, managed capsize, at the behest of a senior instructor and many watchful lifeguards.

Icy cold lake water produces high-pitched squealing, no matter the gender. Once the noise abates, and if the kids have listened to instruction, their only task is to verbally and visually check on their buddy, and then dog paddle to the exposed centerboard, where in subsequent lessons, capsize recovery efforts will be taught and mastered.

At the same learning center, a beginner adult receives very different treatment. Adults start with classroom training to learn the points of sail, the names of the parts of a boat and the basic controls. On the water, the only thing that is the same is the requisite lifejacket. Adults don’t have to prove swimming skills, in part, because it’s not likely that they’ll do any (although they do have to sign a form saying that they can swim, for insurance liability reasons.) There is usually no capsize test, since they learn on more stable keelboats. Even while sailing, the adults won’t get near water, except, possibly, to dip a fingertip into it or when it comes to them in spray over the bow.

It seems logical that these lesson plans start in different places, given the fact that the students are different ages. But let’s go out on a limb and ask two questions:

  1. Why do kids need to know how to swim to learn to sail while adults don’t?
  2. Why don’t adults start to learn sailing – a water sport – by going into the water, just as kids do?


March 28, 2012 § 2 Comments

First published on SailingAnarchy – March 2012

It’s what we all have for sailing, right?

Well, not compared to walking, or dancing, or playing cricket, or even bushwalking. Yes, I said bushwalking.

In fact, according to one of the most comprehensive research studies on recreational sailing ever conducted, sailing ranks 37th out of 46 sports tracked, with only 5% of the population calling themselves fanatics. Three and a half times as many bushwalkers (hikers, in Aussie) are fanatics about what they do.

Credit Yachting Australia (YA), the Australian version of US Sailing, for investing in the future of sailing by listening to sailors and aspiring sailors of all ages. The organization commissioned a massive study, talked to thousands of people, and are using what they’ve learned to develop new ideas to grow sailing and make it better in the down under.

The report is a treasure-trove of terrific insights and ideas. Since the Australian recreational sailing experience and Australia’s population and economic development essentially parallel the rest of the developed world, sailing advocates everywhere should thank the folks at YA for putting it out there and then grab all of YA’s good ideas for their own use.

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Betting on Sailing Parents

March 1, 2012 § Leave a comment

First published in SpinSheet Magazine – March 2012

Most kids’ programs, sailing schools included, bet that parents aren’t interested. Some even bet on parents to fail.

Don’t get me wrong, I love sailing schools. I give as many volunteer hours as I can to the one in my town. They’re terrific places for kids to learn sailing skills and meet new friends, and if a student sticks around for a few years and shows a little gumption, they might have the chance to make a few bucks as an instructor when they’re old enough to work.

But like soccer and baseball leagues, kids’ choirs, piano lessons and summer camps, most sailing schools are designed to serve kids until they’re not kids anymore. Only a few adults are deemed qualified and selected to be the coaches or counselors. The rest are left to drive the minivan and watch from the sidelines. They’ve been aced out, almost as if they’re not good enough.

The premise is that kids must only be with other kids to learn to be good enough at what-ever-the-program is teaching and to gather some social skills. And there seems to be an unspoken undercurrent — a flawed assumption, I think — that if parents are around, it couldn’t possibly be as fun.

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