What is the future of sailing? Maybe economics and resource shortages will have a different impact than you might imagine...
I recently had the pleasure to read $20 Per Gallon: How the Inevitable Rise in the Price of Gasoline Will Change Our Lives for the Better by Christopher Steiner. Of course, as an active racing sailor, I was reading the book not only with an eye to the many fundamental, even drastic, changes to our society and overall lifestyle that Steiner predicts but, more particularly, to how the rise in the price of oil, and everything derived from it, will affect our beloved sport of sailing.
The premises of the book are
- the demand for oil will continue to increase as the global middle class expands
- the oil that remains in the earth will become more and more expensive to locate and extract
- as a result the price of gasoline (and all other products derived from oil) will climb to levels we have never seen before.
Each chapter discusses the changes to be expected as gas goes through $6, $8, $10..... all the way to $20 per gallon. Steiner focuses mainly on the impact on American society; one could argue that many European countries are already well along the path to some of these higher prices, and the associated changes in their way of life.
So here's how the story goes...
Chapter $6: the end of the American SUV as we know it, fewer cars on the road, fewer accidents, less obesity, cleaner air, no school buses, reduced travel in youth sports...
Hmmm. So what does that mean for my sailing? I have been known to drive a 2000 mile round trip towing my boat to sail in a regatta. I expect those days will be over for many of us as gas becomes more and more expensive. Maybe we will all race much closer to home, in the same way that Steiner predicts that the current practice of long distance travel for elite school athletes will die out.
Chapter $8: the skies will empty, all but one of the major American "legacy" airlines will go out of business, it will cost $1000 to fly coast-to-coast and $2000 to fly to Europe, and resort destinations dependent on air travel... Disney World, Las Vegas, Jackson Hole and the rest... will be in major trouble.
Hmmm. There goes the international element of my sailing. No more jetting off to Australia or Europe to sail in Laser Masters Worlds, at least not for so many of us. And will some of my favorite sailing "resort" destinations such as Bitter End Yacht Club, Minorca Sailing etc. survive once the current era of cheap air travel is over? Looks like all of my sailing will be at local clubs and regattas which is not necessarily a bad thing, just different.
Chapter $10: major switch to plug-in hybrids and electric cars.
And in this chapter Steiner addresses directly a change in boating habits under the heading Extinction Will Come for Gasoline-Slurping Big Boy Toys. He predicts the end of snowmobiles, and more to the point jet skis. (Do I hear the sound of applause from my sailing friends?)
And get this next prediction: "The giant fleet of motorboats, speedboats, and ski boats that crowd our waters will be thinned to a tiny convoy. Sailboats, canoes, kayaks and rowboats will rule the waves." (I am sure I can hear you cheering now.)
Steiner goes on: "Many people will have their hobbies stolen from them by the rising price of gas. It will no longer be possible for a family to enjoy a powerboat in the summer... People will get along without their 400 horsepower pick-up truck that drags their 300 horsepower bass boat from lake to lake."
So what will happen to all the powerboaters and jetskiers? My personal guess is that many of them will still be drawn to spending their leisure time on the water. And they will find ways to do so without big gas-guzzling engines. They will fish from a rowing boat or a canoe. Those with a yen for speed will sail high performance dinghies or catamarans. Folk who seek spills and thrills will take up whitewater kayaking or surfing. Those who want to travel and explore will do so in day-sailers and small cruisers. The rise in the price of gas will guarantee the future health of sailing, kayaking, windsurfing, rowing... every water sport you can enjoy without an engine.
Quite by coincidence I noticed today that bonnie of frogma has been thinking along similar lines. In a comment to a post on O Dock she wrote..
I've heard that kayaking is weathering the economy pretty well.
Back when gas was twenty dollars a gallon (or whatever it was when it was at the worst), I was always saying that we should do a campaign for my kayak club by printing up flyers - "Tired of the the high price of gas? Come visit your neighbors at the Sebago Canoe Club!" - and then going out in the middle of the night & leaving a flyer on board each & every motorboat in the Paerdegat Basin.
So what do you think? Am I an hopeless optimist? Or is sailing really due for a major revival as the price of oil rises inexorably to the point where water sports that use engines will be priced out of reach of the average family?
I haven't got my mind around whether $20 gas will have other consequences for sailing. What will it do to the price of the raw materials used in boat-building for example? What other unforeseen consequences might there be?