Monday, September 21, 2015

Reflections from the President - Soaking Wet

by Tom Hubbell

I’m actually a fan of formal dining. My parents were pretty formal and although we lived on an engineer and a social worker’s income, they routinely enjoyed formal meals at home or occasionally in restaurants. But with a few fantastic exceptions, a club that focuses on white tablecloth dining rooms is missing the ingredients it takes to have a vibrant sailing hub.

I submit that the single best indicator of a vibrant sailing institution is whether it is normal to see a soaking wet 12-year-old in a life jacket gadding about in the common areas of the club - not the junior sailing hut, but the club’s primary facility. 

I have enjoyed sailing and visiting many clubs and community sailing centers each year all over the country in my 14 years of involvement with the US Sailing Board of Directors. When junior sailing is active and welcome within the ‘adult’ spaces it is much more likely to become a multigenerational club. When kids are in this space there is a level of excitement that is contagious. Junior sailing encourages more training programs offered by these organizations. Clubs that discover the value of training for all ages and skill levels, including race management and safety, quickly see increased participation across the board.

If you can’t wait for the kids to grow up and populate your club, then you’ll want to recruit young adults and former collegiate sailors looking for new opportunities. I don’t hear them clamoring for white tablecloth dining either. I believe they are looking for a welcoming place, lower membership costs, access to club-owned boats, reasonably priced burgers and beer, and a shower.

And while solo boats and couples boats are fun, it may be that three-person one-designs and three or four-person boats in PHRF fleets are a necessary backbone for sustainability. There must be a reason that Thistles, Flying Scots, Lightnings, J/22s and J/24s are practically everywhere and I suspect the reason is the social glue for which they are famous. They are inviting to mixed-gender, multigenerational teams. They offer local, regional, and national levels of competition.

Out of necessity, community sailing centers have been getting this right and, guess what, they are booming. Informal, inexpensive, welcoming, focused on training and fun – those are the buzz words for growth. You can still have a nice dining room upstairs as long as it doesn’t compromise having young sailors having the run of the place.

Tom Hubbell

President of US Sailing

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