There is much written and discussed regarding the state of our sport, be it junior sailor retention, professionals vs. amateurs, Olympic performance, and so on. I am constantly provided with statistics and studies, panel discussions and focus groups that all have differing opinions of why junior sailors have lost interest in the sport, don’t have the necessary portals by which to continue sailing, or won’t enter the maritime trades in their late teens and twenties. I guess it’s good that people are out there talking and figuring, and I suppose everyone has a different view and agenda. I see things a bit differently. We’re at the gateway to growth and success.
I made an observation during my travels this summer, at junior regattas and while attending this year’s boat shows; a sense of encouragement with respect to pursuing a career in sailing. I saw many more young sailors crewing on big boats, apprenticeship programs gaining a foothold (like the ones described on page 28), young sailors attending the boats shows, eager to see what’s new and interesting – and an industry that is responding – or at least beginning to do so – in a pro-active manner.
I first witnessed this feeling of ‘positivity’ when I had the opportunity to spend time with some of my yacht club’s junior big boat team – the supposed ‘at risk’ kids of the junior program. (…at risk of fading out of sailing because of waning interest…) Not one of those sailors is leaving the sport. In fact, many of them are looking for ways to get more involved. Big boat racing seems to be the entry for many of them at this time, but some spoke of frostbiting and mixing it up with their parents in Lasers or Ideal 18s in the off-season, others of coaching and even boatbuilding.
One junior sailor who is taking important steps to keep sailing outside his summer program is this month’s On Watch person. Justin Smith is an inspirational sailor because through sailing and what the sport has taught him, he is trying to make a difference in the world. I urge you to flip ahead and read about Justin’s plans to help raise money for – and awareness of – the restoration of Long Island Sound’s fragile ecosystem. Maybe Justin will continue using his passion for sailing to make a difference in the world – and why not? With the right support, he should be able to do just about anything he dreams. The same should be afforded to anyone aspiring to have a career in boating – be it racing at the highest levels, designing the sleekest yachts, or the sails for such, or building and launching, or working to finance any of the aforementioned. The sky’s the limit for focused and empowered youngsters in our sport.
I heard Ken Read speak at a recent Rhode Island Marine Trades Association meeting during the Newport Boat Show, and his message was clear: Step it up. We need to do a better job of not only retaining junior sailors, but helping them to find their niche – whether as professional sailors, builders, designers or consumers. Kenny cited Rome Kirby (the 23-year-old that he’d sailed in the 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race with aboard PUMA Ocean Racing’s mar mostro) as an example of the great success that can be had in sailing if you set a goal and work to attain it. Rome is now sailing in the America’s Cup for Oracle Team USA. Truly excellent – The VOR and the America’s Cup – Rome is one American sailor who is achieving his personal goals while raising the bar for other young American sailors.
I think that we have done a good job in recent years to keep youth sailors interested in the sport. I also believe Kenny is correct. We need to step it up and continue to help our young sailors attain international recognition on the racing scene and elsewhere. If we support their efforts past junior sailing, help them reach goals in competition and provide them with the platforms and support to launch maritime careers, our sport – and the entire marine industry – will continue to rebound, grow and thrive.
See you on the water!