Thursday, October 29, 2009
Nick Hayes is in love with sailing. He is one of those people who believes that sailing takes us as close to God as we think we might ever be.
But he is troubled. The numbers tell him that sailing in America is in decline. And he wants to understand why something as rich and rewarding as sailing should be losing popularity. More than that: he wants to work out how to save sailing.
So he has studied sailing and sailors and sailing clubs. He has interviewed more than 1,200 sailors worldwide. He has drawn some fascinating conclusions as to why sailing is decline and what we need to do about it, and he has written all about it in his new book, Saving Sailing.
Actually, in the process of pondering what is happening in sailing, Nick has developed some theories about how people choose to use their free time generally, and how to support any challenging but rewarding inter-generational life-long pursuit. His conclusions are as applicable to making music or hunting or knitting as they are to sailing.
Saving Sailing is a book which challenges you to examine many of your own assumptions about our sport. Time and time again as I read it, I found myself thinking, "Hmmm. That's a good point. How does that relate to my experience at that club or that sailing program? Do I agree with his argument or not?" My mind is still buzzing as I mull over the ideas in this book. I suspect I may revisit some of the issues in future blog posts.
A couple of examples...
Nick argues that one of the reasons that an activity like sailing, a "life pastime" as he calls it, is deep and rich and socially meaningful is that it requires more skill and more time commitment than some "time filler" such as watching TV or surfing the web. Paradoxically fewer people are embracing a life pastime because other options are easier; but those of us who are drawn to a life pastime, like sailing, do so even though it is hard - or perhaps partly because it is hard. Nick concludes that, "If sailors hope that sailing will survive and grow, they won't try and convince others that it is easy. They will rightly call sailing what it is: difficult, time-consuming, evolving, sometimes risky and always worth it." Quite a controversial stance. One that our new president of US Sailing doesn't seem to have embraced (yet).
As someone who was once involved in teaching junior sailing classes, I have always seen the large number of kids involved in junior sailing programs as a healthy sign for the future of our sport. Nick, however, is skeptical about this view. He sees that the vast majority of kids, even those who go on to college sailing, eventually drop sailing from their lives after they graduate college and find more important things to take sailing's place, things like a career and wife and kids. He also sees that, for many families, sailing is just another one of those activities like baseball and ballet and soccer where the parents drop off their kid for some lessons, Mum and Dad are not involved themselves in their kid's sailing, and indeed they often don't even understand what the kid's sport is all about.
After ranging far and wide (and deep) and analyzing the decline in sailing from all angles, Nick develops a set of recommendations for attacking the problem based on a model of mentoring across generations, preferably within the family. He is a strong believer in parents investing in skills so as to be able to transfer skills, in parents doing things with their children not just for them, in parents making difficult time choices in order to share time with their kids in their chosen life pastime.
His vision is compelling. I have seen at least one sailing club where it is working superbly well. I am not totally convinced that Nick's vision is the only way to save sailing, but his book certainly stimulates the reader to think through all these issues.
I would recommend the book to anyone concerned about the future of sailing. If you are a parent who would like your kids to sail you should read the book; it could change your whole approach to sailing as a family. If you are in any kind of leadership position in a sailing club or a community sailing organization, then you should buy some copies of this book for all the officers of your group, read it, and then discuss as a group how you are going to use the ideas presented to improve your program. If, like me, you are just some old dude who loves sailing as much as Nick does, then you should read the book to rouse yourself to work out what you can do to make sure that our sport doesn't decline any more.
Nick's analysis of these issues is interspersed in the book with anecdotes about different people's experiences of sailing - some good, some not so good. (I'm assuming that the characters in these tales are fictional but based on reality.) As the book progresses we slowly discover that many of the people in these stories are actually connected with each other, and that Nick is writing about a complex web of relationships across genders, generations and ethnicities, a web in which memories are created and passed on and in which one generation mentors the next.
And now for a surprising coincidence and a hopeful sign...
I read the last one of these sailing anecdotes in Nick's book on Monday. It was the final link in the chain of connections between all the characters, but historically it was the earliest story. It was a tale about the seminal incident that had sent ripples of relationships and memories and teaching across families and across generations. It was a story about a sailing race in a Thistle about fifty years ago. A guy whose name began with E. took his young daughter and her best school friend out sailing. Immediately after reading this chapter of the book I turned to my computer and saw that my friend Edward had just posted Sailing Camp on SF Bay, an account of a sail he had with his daughter and her friend and how they were having fun learning about sailing.
I think Nick Hayes would approve. Edward is doing his bit to save sailing. There is hope. Sailing does have a future.
Full disclosure: I was given a review copy of Saving Sailing.
Posted by Tillerman at 5:59 AM