Thursday, January 03, 2008

One Design Racing: Make it Cheap, Easy, Fun

Hi Ralph,

You’re right about the Star, we do enjoy our one-design racing. Apart from more obvious aspects of one-design racing, one cannot ignore the camaraderie within the fleet, which helps build a strong sense of belonging to the fleet. We’re lucky to have a pretty good group at CNDM, and there is a lot of info sharing, tuning tips, and good natured ribbing that goes on after each race. In building the fleet, we were conscious of the social aspect of sailing which needs to be an integral part of the activity in order to keep people coming back. Basically, it’s gotta be fun. A simple example is our post race gathering around beer and chips. Every Wednesday, a crew is designated to bring beer and munchies for every one. After every body has pitched in hauling the boats, we gather around the beer and chips to share stories.

Having done a bit of reading of one-design fleet development, I know that this is not specific to the Star fleet. All successful fleets out there have put an emphasis on the social aspect of racing. It’s a way for new people to integrate the fleet quickly, and it allows for all those bruised egos on the water to deflate a bit on shore.

The case for Cheap, Easy and Fun sailing

From a broader perspective, I would like to share a few lessons learned from what we’ve seen in our fleet and around Montreal in the last few years. As we go forward in an environment where sailing is competing with more and more options in terms of outdoor activities, we need to focus on making our sport more affordable and fun. In my opinion, this is one of the key successes of the Star fleet. It’s a cheap (at least at club level racing), easy, and fun opportunity for the enjoyment of our sport. And if we want our sport to keep on thriving, I think we need to refocus our efforts around fun and affordable one-design fleets. Here’s our experience from the Star fleet perspective:

· Cheap :

Cheap boats : Just by asking around you can easily find a club level race ready Star for under $5 000.

Cheap sails : With the amount of sailors in the fleet, you can always find regatta sails at a very reasonable price. If you travel to regattas, you just walk up to a pro, and they are happy to sell you their regatta sails at a 40-60% discount. Plus there’s only two sails to take care of, main and jib.

· Easy :

Easy crew finding and training : If you’ve read my blurb on the Quebec fleet website, you’ll understand how myself and William Hendershot started this whole thing. In short, coming from the J24 fleet, we were just tired of chasing after, and training crew for regattas. All this organization of putting a crew of 5 together for racing, just became really tedious after a while. Basically it was no fun anymore. You just have a finite amount of time in a week to dedicate for an activity, and sometimes it just becomes too much work for what it’s worth. With a crew of 2 the Star is great for that aspect. You’re always only one phone call away from replacing your regular crew. Same thing for away regattas. The logistics of a crew of 2 are very minimal.

Easy towing : The Star is light enough that you don’t need a beast of a truck to tow it around. You can easily tow it with a Volvo wagon, which makes it easier to find a car that will double as your everyday car and tow vehicle for your sailboat. If it’s easy to tow, it will be easier to make that decision to go to an away weekend regatta.

· Fun :

Sail a boat that moves : Life is too short to sail boring slow boats. My apologies to the J24 people out there, but sailing the J24 around Montreal in light wind is not my idea of fun. With the typical wind conditions around Montreal (average of 6-8 knots), it’s a lot more interesting having a boat that actually moves in these conditions. The Star is a great boat for these conditions.

Crew involvement : With a crew of 2, there is plenty to do for both skippy and crew, which is not always the case with the bigger boats. It’s really exciting when, as a rookie you start crewing on keelboat, and all you do is sit on the rail and pass the sandwiches around between races. Do that a few times in a drifter and it gets old pretty quick. Having the crew involved in the racing is a lot more fun them, and will eventually help you grow your numbers, as they might eventually get interested in buying their own ride.

Of course our situation and experience is not singular. I’m sure when people from Etchells fleet read this will find a lot of similarities with their situation. The way that fleet just popped up at PCYC is simply amazing and is a testament to quality of the boat and people involved in the racing. But the more we share these experiences...

The case for more dinghy racing

Looking at the Montreal sailing scene, I think that adult dinghy racing is way underrepresented. Sure you have the Lightning fleet at Royal, and the Fireballs at PCYC, but I’m sure that the potential is there for a lot more growth. Last year I left my Finn at Venture. Sailed a few regattas with the group there, and it was real fun .Again, cheap and easy sailing. They rabbit start their races, and set a course around a set of fixed marks. They just go one race after the other. Although not one-design (I was racing against Lasers and Bytes), it was still a lot of fun going around the course with those guys. And if one wants a cheap way of getting on water, the Laser remains a great option for a lot of people. So are a lot of dinghy classes by the way.

Coincidentally, if you look at the Sailing Anarchy website, you’ll notice their unscientific survey of one-design classes. At the top of the list, the MC scow. Willy is trying to build a fleet of those MCs at CNDM, and he’s given me the opportunity to sail one of his boats a few times. Those MCs are quite the ride. Although mainly singlehanded, their class rules allows to hop a crew on board for extra weight on windy days. Talk about user friendly.

I think that if we want to maintain a certain level of participation and fun in our sport, people would gain a lot by looking into these low cost alternatives. Keep the keelboat if you want to go sail around the lake on a lazy Sunday afternoon with the family. But for pure racing fun, we would gain a lot by building fleets of these fun, fast and affordable classes.


Alain Vranderick