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Adult Sailing Needs a Lift - Ric Morris

19th March 2013
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Adult Sailing Needs a Lift - Ric Morris

#sailing – The keenest sailors are coming out of youth classes looking around and thinking that they have left the best sailing of their life behind them. Why has adult sailing failed to grasp the issue of creating a well-structured and genuinely competitive national level of competition writes Dublin based Sportboat sailor Ric Morris.

Tom MacSweeney asks in his latest Island Nation, what does the ISA do for me as a club member? The short answer is that as an ISA member via a club, the ISA by and large acts to protect the interests of your club. The degree to which this is the case is profoundly demonstrated by the recent vitriol over any ISA activity that is not directly club related , be that the delivery of a high performance program based on delivering success rather than a pathway to the games for club members or by including boats with a motor with in their remit

I have huge respect for Roger Bannon but I found some of his recent arguments a little confusing. He seems to believe that the current ISA pathway does not develop a lifelong love of sailing, focusing too much on performance, while simultaneously suggesting that the same programme does not include enough racing at a young enough age.

There seems to be a lot of finger wagging about the junior program and pathway. Some of it may be accurate. I've certainly come across many parents who are looking for a relatively wholesome activity to keep their child occupied through their teenage years rather than a lifelong sport to share with them. The way the top end of the program creates instructors rather than sailors is certainly a concern too, although the focus on creating instructors is largely driven by demand from parents looking at J1 or gap year opportunities rather than ISA policy.

One of the countries most qualified instructors used to rent a room off me. While he was camped in my living room each day he did a huge amount of work on the youth sailing program at Howth, predominantly using the ISA programs and pathways. It was clear to me from this -- and from the guidance given to parents I've heard repeated given -- that the focus of the training currently used to introduce children to sailing is entirely based on developing confidence with and a general interest in being on the water. The pursuit of competitive racing at that age is driven by the interest shown by the child .... or the parent ... but to be fair not on creating fodder for existing classes. There is nothing with in the early stages of the ISAs sail training its self that pushes kids into something they are not enjoying and out of the sport.

Over all slamming the ISA's youth training programme is wide of the mark. There are complaints that an out dated wooden double handed dinghy junior class has been over looked. Perhaps it's believed that an out dated wooden double handed junior dinghy class is the ideal route for producing dumbed down race focused sailors with a low enough expectation that they will want to race in old out dated double handed senior dinghy classes? A clear case of cart before horse.

Is this issue being raised through genuine concern or though vested interest by the newly instated committees of a couple of the more active and established dinghy classes; with what's turning into a genuinely successful high performance programme and one of our most successful Olympians being treated as a political football and stalking horse?

Given that the point that the funding for the high performance program is independent and none transferable is repeatedly ignored you have to wonder. You have to wonder where the criticism of the hard work being done to introduce sailing as part of school activity is coming from too. Is this activity diverting people away from other forms of sailing? Or is it opening up the sport of sailing to a wider group of people in a format that can support a sailor without requiring investment in equipment and research shows is more successful keeping tweenages in the sport of sailing, in all its forms? More the latter than the former in my view. This isn't a zero sum game.

By the way before anyone tells me that the Mirror is no longer an out dated wooden double handed junior class, note that these are the boats it is proposed should be resurrected from hedgerows and garages and that a modern GRP Mirror tweeked within the tolerances allowed by the rules is around 20% more expensive than an RS Feva. A cheap way to access the sport it is not.

The amount of effort being expended is admirable, It's focus is not.

The real questions are:

Why isn't adult sailing offering the kind of sailing that the sailors who are coming out of the junior and youth programmes can access and want to do? The question was asked by someone of the relevant age in the recent debate and completely ignored.

Why has adult sailing failed to grasp the issue of creating a well-structured and genuinely competitive national level of competition? Why are the keenest sailors coming out of the youth classes etc, looking around and thinking that they have left the best sailing of their life behind them or felling they they should dip into specific events in order to get it?

When the formula is so simple (club fleets make classes, club captains make club fleets) why is nearly every class in Ireland a single club class?

And perhaps most importantly, why has adult sailing so badly failed to address the shift in free leisure time from men to women?

I doubt the answers lies with the status quo or in the past.

If dinghy sailing was to get its wish and get an ISA board member, if they were genuine about it the addressing the kind of questions being asked of the ISA what would they do?

They'd start by abandoning the "All Ireland whatever it's called this year championship" and set up an open entry national sailing championships covering a limited number of disciplines each using dictated equipment. They'd then actively prevent all the other classes from referring to their national champs as such and put what effort they could muster into encouraging clubs to set up fleets of those classes.

Here's a suggestion of what those classes would be: 4 dinghy disciplines (single handed, double light weight, double heavy weight, high performance), 1 OD keelboat discipline, and the ICRA classes. Plus may be team racing. No more.

If not the above then do the dinghy class associations really deserve an ISA board member in order to help them with their admin?

Published in ISA
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