Is Sailing's Mystique a Mistake?

It's no secret that the popularity of recreational sailing in America is ebbing and, sadly, has been for decades.  According to the US Coast Guard, since 1999 sailboat registrations have dropped by more than 25% , a trend that began back in the early '80s, and now barely 2% of all registered boats are powered by the wind.
Author:
Publish date:
Social count:
1

It's no secret that the popularity of recreational sailing in America is ebbing and sadly has been for decades. According to the US Coast Guard, sailboat registrations have dropped by more than 25-percent since 1999, a trend that began back in the early '80s, and now barely 2-percent of all registered boats are powered by the wind. Strangely, in spite of spiraling fuel costs, powerboating hasn't seen a similar decline. 

Numerous explanations have been offered; the most obvious being the high cost of sailboat ownership. But, while the purchase price of new sailboats eliminates many, the market is rife with seaworthy used boats, some costing less than a second hand SUV.

Some hold sports like golf, bicycling, tennis, and running responsible for filling the leisure hours of active Americans, while others feel the sedentary lifestyle of the video game generation is to blame. Still others point the finger inward, attributing sailing's decline to the absence of quality mentoring programs for our youth.

And while all of these are certainly factors in the decline, there's another, more personal reason that may be uncomfortable to admit. It involves our collective egos and how we view ourselves at the helm. As experienced sailors, we take pride in our ability to skillfully maneuver our boats using only the power of the wind, as well we should, but sometimes we choose to make the process appear more difficult than it really is... especially when there are non-sailing guests to impress.

While making fine adjustments to the back stay, traveler, cunningham and boom vang are critical in squeezing out that last quarter knot of speed on Wednesday nights, that tweaking is hardly critical to a pleasant weekend sail around the lake. In fact, many captains who are out for a leisurely Sunday afternoon sail don't even concern themselves with sail shape... until guests come aboard, that is. Consciously or not, many of us work hard at emphasizing the enigmatic nature of sailing.

Adding to the mystery is sailing's baffling terminology. Sheets and blocks, halyards and forstays, leeches and luffs become just more pieces of the confusing puzzle. As a result, many Sunday afternoon guests return to dry land overwhelmed with sailing's complexities rather than excited about the prospect of entering a sport that, while challenging, is well within their financial means and skill level.

If recreational sailing is to recover from it's three decade long ebbtide, experienced sailors must put their egos aside and demystify the sport. We must act as mentors for our adult guests as we would for students in a classroom, offering instruction in functional terms rather than the obscure ones that serve to further reinforce the sport's elitist image. Instead of stressing the complexities of sailing, we need to show our guests how simple, affordable, and safe sailing can be. 

Related

01-Hanse_Emotion_6

Hanse’s E-Motion Electric Rudder Drive

When news that Hanse Yachts had launched a new form of electric-powered yacht first broke in the winter of 2016, it was widely reported. After all, Hanse is one of the world’s biggest builders of sailing boats, so this had the feeling of a breakthrough to it.After nearly a year, ...read more

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell.Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.comDefusing the Run It’s been said with justification that gentlemen don’t boast about how windy it was, but the shape of my ensign in the photo will give well-informed readers a fair idea. They will also ...read more

01b-Over-Loch-Scavig

Cruising Across the North Sea

Conventional wisdom says sleeping in the V-berth while offshore is a bad idea. It can be like a diabolical amusement ride that tosses a sailor to and fro, inducing stomach-churning weightlessness. And yet, here I am, nestled in the tilted corner created by my berth and the ...read more

GG17-SAONA47-DX0796

Boat Review: Fountaine Pajot Saona 47

Here’s a riddle: What is less than 50ft long, has two hulls, three big cabins and four decks? Answer: The Fountaine Pajot Saona 47. In fact, it may even be five levels if you count the large engine rooms. This boat is a “space craft” in every sense of the word.DESIGN & ...read more

RichardBennettMIDNIGHT-RAMBLER3249x202

Storm Sails: Do you Need Them?

Many sailors embarking on ocean passages will take along the obligatory storm jib and trysail, with the vague idea that they may come in handy. Few sailors, however, have a real understanding of how and when to set them.It doesn’t help matters when we hear from seasoned sailors ...read more

IntheWater(1)

Boaters University Unveils Rescue Course

Boaters University has just announced its latest online course, Safety & Rescue at Sea, taught by Mario Vittone, whose name you might recognize from the pages of our sister publication, Soundings Magazine and his Lifelines blog.Mario Vittone is a retired U.S. Coast Guard rescue ...read more

IMG_20170920_132819

How to: Installing New Electronics

I had been sailing my Tayana 42, Eclipse, for a few years without any installed electronics on board. I’d gone pretty far up and down the New England and Mid-Atlantic coasts with paper charts, the Navionics app on my Android phone, a hand-bearing compass and the ship’s compass. ...read more