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Putting family and fun back into sailing

by Matthew Princing on 17 Jan 2011
The Princing family .. .
In most of the sailing countries of the world, racing is currently passing through troubled times, yet non-competitive sailing - cruising - is gaining popularity. Here Matthew Princing asks what IS going wrong with the sport, explores his own relationship with sailing and his family, and draws some interesting conclusions: (Matthew Princing lives in Michigan, USA, with his wife Jenny and daughter Sydney, enjoying sailing their lightning Scars and Scrapes.)

There are many articles and books floating around about the state of sailing today. They discuss the decline in our sport by various demographics and point towards influences like the economy, access to sailing and perception.

The economy is certainly an issue, especially in the Midwest where my family lives and sails. We are somewhat challenged by the fact that we are a blue collar area and we have lost a record number of well paying jobs which limit our spendable income. Boats unfortunately are quite easy to put on the back burner and become deemed not a priority (this is blasphemy to a true sailor but it happens). Our sailing clubs in turn suffer due to lack of members and income coming in that drives our sailing programs so access to sailing suffers. There is a whole generation of kids out there that haven’t had the chance to try sailing, and to me that is a shame.

Perception of sailing has never really been stellar. Many uneducated journalists have mistakenly reported that sailing is a sport of the rich, the elite. This of course couldn’t be farther from the truth. Are there wealthy sailors? Yes, there are - but there are many more middle class sailors and quite a few that would be considered poor by many standards. You certainly don’t have to be wealthy to afford a very nice sailboat.

My belief is that we need to put the fun and the family back into sailing. It starts with me. I will do what I can. These two go hand in hand and we can raise the next generation of sailing families.

I grew up the son of a power boater, a floating condo kind of situation. We were a very small minority at a predominantly sailing club. It wasn’t long before my brother and I were sailing and soon the whole family were too.

I bought my first boat about a month before I graduated college. I was bitten by the Lightning ( bug by a family friend who let me sail an old woodie off his beach. I bought the first of four Lightning’s (so far) that spring and joined the local fleet in Bay City, MI. That was 1991, I am still there. Why? Friends and family. We have fun. The Lightning class is very family oriented as are other classes we participate in, like the J/22 Class ( We have made life long friends in both classes and plan our schedules to meet up with our friends somewhere on the regatta scene or at fleet races.

I wasn’t the 'family' sailor though, I was probably part of the problem. I drove my family away from sailing early on due to a competitive streak that was relentless and then perhaps a short fuse. Age has mellowed me but also increased my desire to sail and be surrounded by my family.

Blessings come in small packages. Mine is my youngest daughter Sydney, who on her own put the 'family' back into our sailing lives. She chose to sail with me when she was about six years old. We would sail first and then do the swimming or the ice cream or the pizza. It was a difficult time in our lives as our family structure was changing, but we found joy and comfort in our family sails.

Skip ahead a couple of years and Sydney and I introduced my wife Jenny to sailing. We spend many lazy days on Tawas Bay day sailing our J/22 and also mix it up in the fleet races and family races. Jenny had never been on a sail boat before the summer of 2007. She has become a pretty good bow person on our J boat.

This fall I introduced her to our Lightning, kind of a baptism-by-fire. You see I have sailed my Lightning with my brother and sister-in-law for the past 10 years or so. My sister-in-law and I were going to Wawasee Yacht Club in Syracuse, IN for the annual Hoosier Regatta in October. We needed a third and couldn’t come up with one so I volunteered my wife (we are still happily married). The plan was always to get her on the Lightning but schedules hadn’t allowed it. So off to a very windy and very cold Lake Wawasee we go. I must confess the last time I was there I took the crew swimming in very similar conditions. Nervous? Most of us, yes.

We had a blast. We worked out our bugs in the first race and never looked back. We were very light and very fast. Jenny was a quick learner up front and did a great job and Jennifer (yes it is confusing, this is my sister-in-law) is always good in the middle. We didn’t win any trophies (we were 1 point out of fifth) but were a top 5 boat in the last 3 of 5 races.

No swimming and best of all…I got to hang out with my wife, my family, all weekend doing what I love to do with the ones I love. Next we will introduce Sydney to the Lightning and truly make it a family affair.

Nobody does 'family' better than Wawasee Yacht Club. It is not on our list of regattas because it’s nice in Northern Indiana in October, far from it. We had winds in the 20’s with huge puffs and a wind chill of 31 degrees on Sunday morning. It’s the people that make it. A barrage of members and families welcome you with open arms the minute you walk in the door.

We were welcome in to their homes as guests and treated like royalty. Our host Jeff Schmahl waded into the water each morning to help boats get out as the wind direction made it difficult. What service! When we arrived at the dock after sailing on Saturday the members were on hand to help and offer us a glass of hot buttered rum (delicious and warm). We felt like we were at home, with family, warm, fuzzy, good. In my opinion this is the best regatta in the Midwest bar none.

Oh the sailing? It was pretty darn good too.

To read more about Matthew Princing and his blog on many subjects,

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