Could British sailing’s own difficulties with maintaining the ‘fun factor’ to attract more racers and fans have repercussions for the ISA’s recent efforts to rejuvenate the sport in Ireland?
David Henshall writes for Yachts and Yachting about measures that can be taken to ensure the ‘f in fun’ isn’t lost from the British sailing scene.
And his conclusions would surely be just as pertinent on this side of the Irish Sea.
One issue identified is time, or the use of it. The article cites Finn Olympic medallist Luca Devoti as one helm at the pinnacle of the sport who sees that as more racing is compressed into the available time, “the more it favours the elite sailors that increasingly are dominating our sport”.
Indeed, it’s not difficult to see why amateurs might be dissuaded from prepping their boats for any weekend meet where the fleet will be ruled by more aspirational professional or semi-pro sailors on the elite track, for whom the results are all.
What can British clubs do to make inroads? Henshall suggests more midweek and after-work sailing meets — something Irish sailing clubs are already making efforts to do this summer season.
But it’s not just about scheduling, it’s also about creating the conditions for more fun on the water. That means considering what the majority of participants want from their races, not what the principal of peak competition demands.
Sailing weeks — combining on-the-water races on unorthodox courses, eschewing the standard windward/leeward runs, with a shoreline festival atmosphere — are cited as one way to buck the trend and maintain a sense of fun.
Open meets in the junior classes like Oppys and Toppers remain successful in the UK and Ireland alike, and fresh thinking at governing-body level is encouraging a new greater sense of ensuring the fun is in taking part, not just winning and striving climb the ladder of success.
What’s more, classes like the lighting-quick Moth, while bringing a new sense of excitement to sailing for competitor and spectator alike, are also fuelling a revival of their non-foiling classic brothers
The shake-up of the ISA-up of the ISA in recent years has seen a push for one-design classes, where the potential for fun is greater than in handicaps — after all, everyone sailing the same boat levels the playing field and reduces that sense of frustration lower-level sailors must feel when higher performance vessels leave them in their wake.
Things aren’t helped by a proliferation of new designs driven by the high-performance level, writes Henshall, which are “fragmenting the scene” and ultimately mean little to grassroots club sailors — the equivalent of trying to sell sports cars to commuters.
Can there be a balance between fun and performance? Henshall suggests the D-Zero design in Britain as a prime example, where neither is sacrificed for the other. The question is, is there a similar mid-range dinghy class that offers the same in Ireland?
What else can be done in the Irish sailing scene to ensure the ‘f in fun’ isn’t lost? Have your say in the comments below!