Wednesday, February 06, 2013

The Apprentice

Once upon a time, many decades ago, someone came up with the idea of special prizes and special regattas for old guy Laser sailors, and they called the old guys Laser Masters. They decided that the definition of an old guy was anyone aged 35 or over. It was true back then. There weren't many people over 35 sailing Lasers.

Then they decided that it would be fun to have the old guys broken down by age (and sex) so they thought up names for each 10 year age group. They called the old guys aged 35-44 "Apprentice Masters."

I don't think they even had a special group for old guys over 65 at first. What a crazy idea! Nobody over 65 would ever sail a Laser! Now they call the old guys over 65 "Great Grandmasters" and there are a whole bunch of them and many of them are faster than me.

But I digress.

I started Laser sailing in my early 30s. I sailed my first few Laser Masters Regattas as an Apprentice Master. I raced in the UK Masters in Swanage and the US Masters in Lavallette, NJ and some others I can't remember. There were quite a lot of Apprentice Masters at those regattas back then.

But times have changed. All of us baby boomers got older and became Masters (45-54) and then Grandmasters (55-64).  Later this year I will become a proud Great Grandmaster.

John Deutsch has been doing some analysis of the numbers of Masters sailors in the various age groups sailing Masters Regattas. His conclusions (along with some very smart looking charts) are posted on his blog at Demographic Shift of Laser Masters Sailors. The most significant trend seems to be that the percentage of Apprentice Masters at these regattas is going down as the attendance by sailors in the older ager groups is increasing.

What's going on? What has happened to all the Apprentices?

We have known for some time that there is a dip in sailing participation generally in the young adult category. I see it in my own family. I was too busy with career and getting married and starting a family to even think of taking up sailing until I was almost 35. My sons sailed a lot as kids, but they haven't sailed much in their 20s and early 30s. Same reason as it was for me. Too much other stuff going on in their lives.

But why aren't the people who sailed Lasers as teenagers getting back into the sport in their mid-30s and showing up at Masters Regattas?

Maybe some of them are just too good to want to sail with us old geezers. Ben Ainslie and Robert Scheidt, for example, are over 35 now but I haven't seen them at any Laser Masters Regattas recently.

Or maybe that generation is not returning to sailing or not taking up sailing in their mid-30s for some reason?

Surely it can't possibly be that they are preferring to sail some other boats rather than the Laser? That's just inconceivable.

Anyway I'm doing my bit.

35 years ago today my wife gave birth to our first child, a son. I bought him a wooden Optimist when he was about 7 and he learned to sail at Rutland Sailing Club in England. We moved to America and he raced Optimists for a while and then he graduated to Sunfish and Lasers. He won some junior championships and we sailed quite a lot together at regattas in both Sunfish and Lasers. He sailed in college and crewed on a Star for a while after college, but he hasn't sailed a lot since. However, he still has one of my old Lasers stored under his deck.

Wait. 35 years ago today? That means he is now an Apprentice Master. He can sail in Masters Regattas with me.

And this summer we will have the New England Laser Masters, the North American Laser Masters, and the Atlantic Coast Laser Masters all on Narragansett Bay. One way or another I am going to drag him to at least some of those regattas.

My son is now an Apprentice Master? How did that happen?

I feel old.


JP said...

It is possible that the number of sailors per age group has remain roughly unchanged but there has been an increase in number of class types coupled with there being a degree of inertia (i.e. people keep with the classes they know). That would lead to there being fewer people within a well established class class over time.

I'm also wondering about disposable income and the role of clubs. If the main route to sailing is to join a club and sail what they have, and clubs tend to buy the main stream classes, then that would funnel newbies into the likes of the Laser.

As to having a son as an apprentice master, that is a sign of longevity and hence to be congratulated on.

Tillerman said...

Thanks JP.

Brian said...

I only see the NA Laser Masters on the official NA Laser calendar.

Tillerman said...

Thanks for pointing that out Brian. I am sure that the Masters Regatta Coordinator or the D7 Secretary will shortly be updating the NA Laser calendar.

The New England Masters is definitely on for Sep 7-8. It's being run by Sail Newport this year.

I jumped the gun a bit in also mentioning the Atlantic Coast Masters. It's almost certainly going to be in RI but last I heard was that the likely host club is still in the process of getting some official permits it needs to run the event.

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