June 9, 2012 § 2 Comments
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:
- The financiers are tiring of the spend.
- Professional sailors can’t make a living.
- 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.”
March 31, 2012 § 6 Comments
First published in Spinsheet Magazine – April 2012
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:
- Why do kids need to know how to swim to learn to sail while adults don’t?
- Why don’t adults start to learn sailing – a water sport – by going into the water, just as kids do?
April 1, 2010 § Leave a comment
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. firstname.lastname@example.org.