#dinghy – A packed National Yacht Club (NYC) in Dun Laoghaire heard important contributions from clubs and classes right around the country this morning at a forum to revitalise small boat sailing and youth training. It is the first step on a new blueprint to stem falling numbers in Irish sailing.
Although the contributions varied from the reintroduction of junior log books to coaching support for senior dinghy classes, delegates were united in the view that the Irish Sailing Association (ISA) has to change tack if it wants to properly support the clubs and classes it aims to represent.
The meeting opened with a welcome from association president Niamh McCutheon who urged everyone to work together for the sport. It was followed by an overview of the problems in small boat sailing and how youth training can be made more relevant to clubs and classes by Roger Bannon, a former president of the association. Bannon has been openly critical of the association's performance in recent weeks. He told the meeting there are serious problems with Irish small boat sailing and that important changes are needed, some of them quite fundamental, to ensure the future vibrancy of our sport.
In many ways the packed club house was testament to his concerns that Irish small boat sailing is in trouble. The full extent of the problem was starkly put into focus with the publication earlier this week of information which showed an alarming decline in attendance figures at dinghy championships and falling participation in junior training schemes.
Former president Paddy Maguire, who chaired the meeting, asked attendees to make four minute contributions and they did not need much encouragement with passionate contributions from champions, instructors, youth sailors, University team racers, senior dinghy sailors, sailmakers, sailing school owners, club commodores and junior organisers.
Norman Lee, the GP14 sailor who originally proposed the motion for change at the ISA agm a month ago said that the ISA had started its life as the Irish Dinghy Racing Association (IDRA) in 1947 but it was now so far off course it more resembled the Concordia, a reference to the ill–fated cruise liner that ended up on the rocks last year.
There were plenty of good quality suggestions for the combining of open events and even the restaging of dinghy week to reinvigorate the small boat scene.
As has been documented on Afloat.ie over the past few weeks the meeting heard a range of contributions from up to a dozen or more delegates with applause after each contribution and included observations such as:
• Numbers participating in dinghy and small one design boats are steadily declining in both youth and adult classes. There are some exceptions, mainly in older traditional classes but unfortunately, this decline represents a fundamental underlying overall trend.
• The retention rate of junior sailors in the sport, after emerging from our training schemes, is alarmingly low, at less than 10%.
• The standard of sailing and racing skills amongst juniors is in general, unacceptably inadequate and they lack even the basic skills to participate in crewed boats with multiple sails.
• The expected natural progression of youth sailors into adult classes as they mature is virtually non-existent.
• The general standard of racing and boat handling skills in most adult classes is also considerably below acceptable levels and certainly much lower than in prior decades.
• The justified emphasis placed on elite sailing has been implemented at the expense of improving standards generally and supporting international participation in non-pathway approved classes to improve skill levels.
• The quality of our training instructors is very mixed and many of them do not have the basic sailing and racing skills to train junior sailors to even a modest level of acceptable competence. It is also incredibly expensive to obtain qualifications to become an Instructor and this dis-incentivises many who might be excellent candidates.
• The ISA is not properly engaged with its members and is devoting a disproportionate share of its resources to service interests and activities which are not relevant to the vast majority of its 20,000 members. This state of affairs has emerged despite quadrupling the staff compliment compared to the late 90's and generating in excess of €2m in annual revenue. Of course it has to be acknowledged that over 50% of this is ring fenced Government funding for our excellent elite and Olympic support programs and for financial support towards the hosting of specific major international events.
• There is a universal concern that the ISA is not providing leadership on important issues which are of the most relevance to its members including its affiliated clubs, many of which are experiencing serious challenges.
For the final item attendees were asked to submit suggestions on paper in bullet point form as to how these issues can be addressed in the short and long term. It is understood over 300 suggestions were received.
The meeting ended at 1.50pm with a commitment from the ISA to distribute minutes to all attendees and to publish its report and action plan.