Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sailing Clubs and Yacht Clubs

"What we've got here is...failure to communicate," said The Captain.

We sure did a lot of "failing to communicate" in our debate about Mommy Boats and related issues of invasive coaching and allegations of cheating among junior sailors. The two camps seemed to be talking past each other. On the one hand we had folk like myself who believe that racing should be all about the individual competing alone without any outside assistance or coaching during the racing day; and on the other hand the people who think that on-the-water coaching during regattas is not only OK, but normal, fair and even necessary.

It struck me that the divide in our attitudes to regatta coaching reflects a deeper divide in the sailing community. The difference in attitudes is a product of two very different styles of sailing institutions to which sailors belong.

I'm going to call these two types of clubs "sailing clubs" and "yacht clubs" for the sake of discussion although
, just to confuse the issue, some of the organizations that fall into my "sailing club" category actually call themselves yacht clubs. Perhaps this sociological divide in the sailing world is a US phenomenon only; I'm sure my readers from other countries can let us know whether a similar split exists in other parts of the world. And before anyone challenges me I plead guilty in advance to exaggeration, over-simplification and painting in black and white. I know the real world has shades of grey with many clubs falling between my two extreme descriptions. But hey, it's more fun to exaggerate.

So what are the differences between yacht clubs and sailing clubs?

A yacht club usually has a grand old building and hundreds of feet of waterfront. The building has a dining room and a bar and a trophy room and maybe even a ballroom. There are vast changing rooms with lockers and showers. There's probably a veranda overlooking the water.

A sailing club may or may not have a building. One sailing club I belonged to didn't have one; another just had a shed to store some equipment. If a sailing club does have a small clubhouse it may have been built by the members; it is probably maintained by them.

A yacht club exists to provide its members with sailing and dining and dances and parties. Apart from the fact that it has sailing it is really a part of the whole country club/ golf club industry. Some people are members only for the dining and they never sail.

A sailing club provides its members with sailing and a place to hang out with friends before and after sailing.

A yacht club has a lot of employees to provide services to its members. There is probably a General Manager and an Executive Chef and a Secretary and a Controller and a Banquet Manager and a Maintenance Manager and a Waterfront Director and a Communications Director and guys who mow the lawns and guys who drive the launches and guys and gals who work in the kitchen and waiters and bar staff and... you get the picture.

At a sailing club almost everything necessary to run the club is done by volunteers from the membership.

A yacht club has a junior program. It employs a team of instructors who run classes for the members' kids at the club all summer. The instructors take the kids to regattas where every other kid is part of a team from a yacht club. The instructors look after their kids well at regattas by driving a coach boat to carry the kids' spare gear and lunches, and they provide some coaching to the kids between races.

A sailing club has a junior program. Some of the adult members run classes for the kids at weekends and organize some junior racing. Some of the parents occasionally take their kids to regattas at other local sailing clubs, where they push the kids off from the beach and watch the regatta from the shore.

Do you see what I am saying? There are two totally different types of club; two different worlds. I'm not saying one is right and one is wrong; they are just different. There are friendly, helpful, welcoming people in both sailing clubs and yacht clubs. There are excellent sailors in both types of club. You can learn to sail and make new friends and have a wonderful time on the water in both types of institution.

But they are very different. And, in particular, they differ in the way they run their junior programs, and from that follows our heated differences about whether on-the-water coaching during regattas is a good thing or not.

What about you? Do you belong to a sailing club or a yacht club?


Pat said...

Yacht and sailing clubs differ in a few principal dimensions: the extensiveness of their facilities, their focus upon the sport, and how much they give back to the sport. Clubs with nice facilities but lacking focus upon the sport can be little more than social clubs and restaurants with a nice view of the water.

How Corinthian is Your Yacht Club is a post I made along these lines.

And, if I dig hard enough, there’s a yacht club ranking scale I did once purely for fun and can try to find.

"Sailing clubs" have a tendency to evolve into "yacht clubs" with the passage of time. It doesn't always happen, and much depends upon the intentions of the founders and the resources of the membership and community, but if the membership drifts into older age and prosperity without importing a great deal of new blood, it is likely that a club will evolve more "yacht club" trappings.

And, a club that keeps its balance and vision can have all the "yacht club" trappings and still keep good focus on the sport, giving back to the sport, and renewing itself and its mission.

Tim said...

Another key difference is that Yacht clubs are often frequented by 'cheque book champions' because they can afford the club fees. Sailing clubs have lower fees because it is a club for those with more sense than money, people who want to go sailing and racing but put more stock in sailing ability than the latest greatest gear.

Joe said...

You forgot to mention the third group of sailors; those who do not belong to a any kind of club.

I have belonged to sailing and yacht clubs. Currently I belong to neither, but tend to favor sailing clubs over the gin and tonic crowd.

Tillerman said...

Quite right Joe. And then there's a fourth crowd who are members of community sailing centers. A discussion for future posts perhaps.

Mal's Team Gherkin said...

Definitely a "Sailing Club", thank you very much. At least you can make a total ass of yourself on the water, and everyone can happily laugh-it-off together - because we've ALL done the same thing ourselves before! :)

But here in rural Australia, people simply HAVE to travel around from place to place between 'sailing centres' simply to find enough water to sail on. It's a different world to your gin and tonic types out here.

Sara said...

Typical sailing 'us and them' bullshit. I'm somehow morally superior to you because I'm not elitist or perhaps I just have sour grapes because I wish I could afford a proper boat to go sailing in, instead of this one sail thing that goes on the back of a trailer.

Who cares whether you are sailing a big boat, a small boat, one mast, two masts, 3 sails, 10 sails? Who really gives a toss if someone drinks gin in a tie or slams tinnies of beer from the can? Who cares if some clubs have burgees and some have nothing?

The sport / pastime / activity is sailing. It's dying because people would rather bitch about whether your club is a sailing club, a yacht club, a little ship club, an associated rabble, a regatta or something else.

Who cares what it is called. Does it promote sailing? If yes, great!

David Fuller said...

I'm not sure that there is much of a difference. I've been to sailing clubs that exist purely to take advantage of taxation rules as they apply to alcohol - where there are no boats to be found. I've been to yacht clubs that provide amazing access to all walks of life where 'check-book champions' give back to the community and get a kick out of it.

Sure you could try and manufacture a distinction based on some crude sterotype but to what end?

The New York courts have just spent the better part of a year working out if the spanish yacht club was a yacht club. The deed of gift has one definition and some of us have others.

I don't believe that a yacht club has to be corinthian to make it better than another. Using a purely corinthian scale you would say that Real Madrid and Manchester United were somehow lacking as football clubs!

Better not to create one-size fits all definitions and instead judge each establishment on its merits whatever is written over the door, or website, or facebook group or tin shed...

Zen said...

I belong to neither...however I do belong to a sailing group. We have no building, no club house. only yachts made by the same company and burgrees. We do however visit yacht clubs and use what they have. So does that make us a Yacht Sailing club, or a Sailing club with Yachts?...or what?

Anonymous said...

Sara is correct IMO....this line of thinking tends only to elevate view of self at the cost of diminishing the worthiness of good...reminds me of the people who seek superiority via trashing the religious tendencies of certain "unenlightened" souls...funny that.

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