May 2, 2014 § Leave a comment
Seen first in Spinsheet Magazine.
There has been a lot of recent chatter about creating diversity in sailing. US Sailing gave the subject top billing at their latest conference. On the surface, the theme of the year, sailing’s cause célèbre, seems to be that if America’s skin is darkening, evidenced by the last two elections and demographic trends, so too should sailing’s. This is inarguably true, but let’s not underestimate the enormity of the task ahead.
Search the words “sailing” or “yachting” on Google and often they’ll come attached to a string with words like “elite,” “club” or “exclusive”. While there are outliers among us, sailing isn’t starting from a position of authority on the subject of enthusiastically engaging people other than old white men like me to participate.
Diversity isn’t something you brand and then switch on. It’s something you are. You don’t become diverse when you market to people who are different from you and hope they show up. It’s a condition where different people agree to be together because experiences, both in lifetimes and across generations, prove that it’s worth it. It’s not a temporary meeting at a neutral safe harbor. Once it starts, it continues. Once engaged, diverse groups manage the tensions that come from mixing alternate viewpoints. It’s hard to stay together, but truly diverse groups do.
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.
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?
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.
February 15, 2013 § 1 Comment
SA is reporting on “Saving Sailing” in Hawaii, happening right now…
Every year Hawaii Yacht Club and Waikiki Yacht Club, and their sailing directors Scott Melander and Guy Fleming make available their boats, and their yacht club facilities to high school kids on Oahu, and have an amazing season with two divisions of Varsity Sailing, and JV. Hundreds of kids are introduced to the sport, or continue their Junior development. Talk about “Saving Sailing”…these guys live it every day. Photo: Guy Fleming, Waikiki Yacht Club.
Read more: saving hawaiian style | Sailing Anarchy.
January 9, 2013 § 1 Comment
Seen first on SailingAnarchy.com.
Energy drink marketers are way smarter than I. After all, in the last 10 years they’ve invented new and novel ways to get folks to pay $7 billion more for caffeine. It’s the equivalent of repositioning the hot-dog as la cuisine gastronomique. Genius.
But this time, I think they’re really on to something. They might even Save Sailing!
Look around. Sailing is changing. It’s getting faster and way more fun for the pros. So the pros need helmets. And helmets need logos. Any savvy marketer will tell you those logos should reflect the target audience’s grandest aspirations. For example, everyone knows that NFL fans prefer tasteless beer and pizza.
What an honor it is for sailors to have caught the attention of said brilliant energy drink marketers, even in our advanced age. We’re no longer lowly connoisseurs of platinum timepieces and French champagne. No, thankfully, we sailors have just been promoted to the gas station drink cooler.
It’s a new day for sailing. Shed the pretension. Blue blood be damned. Let’s get real about our awesome sport. It’s extreme. It’s in yer face. It’s for guys with huge trucks.
Popeye, meet Viagra.
Update (01/16/2013): Here is what the Anarchists had to say. My favorite comment:
Skoal Bandit KWRW ?
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.”
April 25, 2012 § 10 Comments
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.
December 18, 2011 § 1 Comment
First published on SailingAnarchy – December 2011
Almost nobody aspires to be cold, wet and scared. American kids are more likely to imagine themselves walking alongside the Mars Rover encased in Kevlar, breathing tank-warmed earth air, than traveling a few miles aboard a sailboat. Perceptions override probabilities.
To see how, you might follow a school field trip to the beach.
Every May, a second-grade class hums and hops at the top of the Milwaukee bluff, shouting out over endless water whipped blue-gray by a northeaster. They’re there to learn a bit about history, weather, commerce and ecology, and most will.
A rusty lake freighter carrying corn plows north sending white sheets over its bow. One kid wonders aloud if people are driving the ship or if it drives itself. Otherwise, the lake is empty and intimidating.
The class braves prickers and thistles on the Poe-esque descent to the beach, leaving dry breeze and a warm sun for the gray dampness that hovers at the shoreline. The teacher tells of wild weather, shipwrecks, drownings, pollution and extinctions while the kids pick sticks to find a shell or a flat rock in the smelly goo of algae, gull poop and chunks of a gelatinous carp carcass. Gulls screech. Tan waves roll and break. An opossum lumbers in the brush.
It is not sandy sand, more rough and jagged mixed with green glass and plastic pieces, littered with the massive white pine bones of the sailing ships that delivered ore from north to south over one hundred years ago and deformed concrete and rebar leftover from human attempts to slow erosion.
Then, the icy water. A few touch a bare toe to it. Like an electric shock, it punches first, hurts and then numbs to the knees. In minutes the class retreats full tilt and screaming spraying mud to the top of the bluff. There, shivering second graders are unanimous that no sane person should go in the lake nor even near it, much less out onto it in a boat. The teacher and chaperones concur. At home, nearly every listening parent agrees. Some warn that the beach and the lake are off limits. Forever. Period.
Childhood experiences almost always have Americans avoiding the water for most, if not all of our lives. We worry about undertows, or sudden storms, or bacteria, or sharks, or the sure disaster caused by swimming too soon after eating. So the idea of sailing seems so risky and foreign that most, indeed 99% of Americans, will never seriously try.