Sunday, February 28, 2010

It's Us, and the Public Good, Not the Industry That Matters Most

Young Canadians did superbly at the recent Laser Midwinter's East in Florida. I'm not going to bother reporting who and how well. In a roundabout fashion, the regatta got me thinking about broader issues. While the competition may not be quite the same as a world championship, it was still very high. With roughly half an Olympic cycle to go before the next games it says a lot about how high the calibre of our racers are. The potential to medal is high. It is curious then that so little attention is paid to these athletes by the professional, large-scale media. I guess it is because so small a proportion of the general population sails. I suppose not a lot of subscriptions or advertisements are sold covering sailing. Despite the size of the America's Cup, and consolidation in favour of some big players, sailing is not big business for the most part. Participation has declined in some demographic categories and in some areas. Curiously, not here, although it remains limited to predominantly  wealthier, white, old men. I guess it is already a small, niche sport here. Profits have shrunk or been stagnant too. Professional writers and sailing analysts fret about this. I've decided that I don't care.

I don't sail in order to support a large-scale, ever-growing industry. I sail because it is fun. I race because it is exciting, and I like to challenge myself. I like to get away from stress and obligations on the island of Montreal. The closest place to do that is the surrounding waters! It can also bring me afar in search of more racing and social ties. None of that is impacted by how many boat builders or businesses exist to suck money from my wallet. We don't sail to serve business behemoths. Why are some people and commentators so obsessed with sailing as an industry? Are we not trying to escape industry, at least for a bit? Maybe I'm a spoil sport, but I'm even turned off by the Olympics as a big business model. The Canadian hype for the Olympics is high with the current games in Vancouver. I enjoy sport as much as the next sailor, but I say must it be so intensely exploited and exploiting? I say let people sail big and small regattas for our own social experience and personal glory. If the rest don't find out how special the sport is, all the better. Some commentators have eternal anxiety over the dearth of sponsors in our sport. Call me old school, but I say, get rid of 'em, and all the yachties who raise the ante to play as well!

A better reason to want to grow the sport would be because it is healthy and fun, to contribute to the public good. If we want more people to be aware of and benefit from sailing, and other water sport, the best action would be to encourage public ownership of the waterfront. It is deplorable how much waterfront is privately owned. It is unacceptable that the public is given little access to what should be a public and preserved natural resource. I don't even care if we don't have more, bigger yacht clubs. Let there be more natural shoreline, clean water, parks, and simple ramps and access points to launch. I suspect a lot more people would be paddling, rowing, and sailing if we could be more aware of what wonderful, hidden possibilities exist.

Oh yeah, to check the results of the Laser Midwinter's in Clearwater Florida, click here!

- Photo by Beth Dolezal from the Clearwater YC site.
-Ralph, Montreal Sailing, blog of the people!