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Save Sailing

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It’s been a year since Nicholas Hayes published Saving Sailing: The story of choices, families, time commitments and how we can create a better future. Since the book came out, Hayes has spoken with sailors across the country about his ideas. We recently caught up with him to find out what he’s learned during his travels.

Have you found out anything new about sailing in the months since you published your book?

The book draws a conclusion that is hard to understand. If you just hear the title, you assume that it’s just about putting kids in boats, when in fact what the book concludes is that in order to have people understand how important this is in life it needs to be parents and kids in boats—and parents are the people not sailing. One of the big surprises is how hard it is to communicate that.

What has been the sailing community’s response to your book?

Parents, kids, clubs and small organizations embrace the concept and are already re-thinking their programs and making them intergenerational, as opposed to being segregated [between kids and adults]. Larger organizations and [the sailing] industry are resisting the idea a little bit, understandably because the model has always been based on segregation—the concept of teaching kids independently, in a kind of a youth sports orientation, and hoping that they’ll stick with it later on. You can understand why they would resist. But I’m very confident that once parents begin making the decision to do this, industry will be right there to support them with good tools and ideas.

Are you seeing efforts to get parents and kids sailing together?

Yes. I’ve spoken with about 8,000 people in hundreds of clubs and can document 60 such clubs that are doing new things, instead of just having a junior program on one end and an adult program on the other end. Organizations are re-thinking their model, which means things like shared fleets designed for intergenerational use, schedules that can fit into a family’s complicated schedule and a social network so parents can start developing colleagues and support networks and understand that they’re not the only ones out there [mentoring]. All sorts of things are transitioning as a result of this, which is really quite satisfying. I think it will be a long time before we know exactly what the best models are, but you can already see things that feel like Boys and Girls clubs in sailing reappearing, where dads and moms are engaged in the activity.

Why is it important for parents to get into boats with their kids, as opposed to kids just going off to junior sailors and high school sailing and things like that?

It’s still important for kids to climb into a boat and learn skills. The junior program is fantastic at teaching skills. [But] what we have is a higher level of skill with a smaller population and a higher defection rate than ever. Defection is really the key. The reason kids are not sticking around is [sailing] is not something they learn to do and love with mom and dad. It doesn’t have any meaning outside of the fact that they conquered it as kids, exactly like taking piano lessons.

You’ve said this is as much about families as sailing, could you explain?

If you think about the spectator paradigm, what we do now as parents is drag our kids around to the five or six different things that they’re going to try as kids and drop them off and try to find the one that they can get a scholarship with, and we never participate. What that means is about 15 years of opportunity is lost in terms of us having an impact on them. Sailing is perfectly primed to be a vehicle for better parenting. Why? Because in soccer you’ll never find a grandmother who can play soccer against a granddaughter, but you can always find an opportunity for a grandmother and a granddaughter to be together on a sailboat.

Have you learned anything else new about the state of sailing since you published the book?

The research from 2003 to 2009 showed that about one in seven sailors were women, a fast-growing group. What I was surprised to learn after the book came out is that, in fact, it’s the fastest-growing group in sailing. Women are coming to sailing much more quickly than I understood before, which I think is great. I think one of the things sailing has to be is gender blind, completely. What I’d like to see happen is that moms are sailing, as opposed to just girls sailing, because it’s at that point that you realize that the mom has the chance to do something really special.

What’s it been like talking to all so many sailors about saving sailing?

I’ve found a huge depth of passion and interest. People are really embracing the fact that there’s a different, basic, simple way of [solving this problem]. A propensity to volunteer systemically exists within sailors. Sailors love to share this thing, which is great. They’re completely eager and enthusiastic to do it. They can see that it’s a great opportunity to help people to enjoy a better quality of life. So there’s a lot of motivation to do it. The question is, what’s the format, the vehicle? My hope is that organizations are going to orient themselves to help families do things like this and then families will be able to make the decision to do things like this. Those two things together are the way you save sailing.

For more on Nicholas Hayes and Saving Sailing: The story of choices, families, time commitments and how we can create a better future, click here.

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