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Sailing Raceboats 2016/17 RS Aero 728x90

The Million Dollar Initiative - Sailing Raceboats' Quest

by Mark Jardine, on 5 Aug 2017
RS Feva flying Sailing Raceboats
Sailing Raceboats is on a mission. They want to encourage sailing participation in Australia and, to achieve this, they have started the Million Dollar Subsidy to help clubs purchase RS Feva and RS Quest dinghies.

The offer is simple: All not-for-profit sailing clubs, when they purchase an RS Feva or RS Quest, will receive two for the price of one. An incredible way to expand sailing training and racing fleets for youths and adults.

Mark Jardine: This is some initiative. What are your motivations for starting it?

Tom Pearce: Participation rates in Australian sailing, particularly in the youth classes, have been falling off for several years. While there have been some excellent initiatives to generate more interest in the sport, there is still a perception that sailing is a bit elitist with a heavy focus on high performance. This is understandable in some ways given the success of Australian sailors in high profile events such as the Olympics and America's Cup.

We want to get newcomers to the sport having as much fun on the water both learning and in club racing. The rebuilding of club racing is a key target of this subsidy. “Get them in, get them trained and get them racing.”

Mark: Apart from this scheme, how do you think clubs can increase sailing participation?

Tom: The Discover Sailing days that are held in Australia - promoted by Australian Sailing - are very successful at getting new faces through the doors of sailing clubs. However, turning these contacts into regular sailors is still a major challenge. Clubs can do much more to embrace these people with more varied formats for club sailing which offers something to the entire family.

Mark: Why specifically did you choose the RS Feva and RS Quest?

Tom: The RS Feva is the highest-selling two-handed youth dinghy worldwide, evidenced by annual world championships that attract fleets of over 170 boats from over 17 nations. The boat is one design, robust, low maintenance and affordable. We have had a number of clubs in Australia take the Feva on board as a training/racing boat and the feedback has been tremendous, giving opportunities to young sailors of all ages, size and physical ability.

The RS Quest offers similar benefits to the Feva, with the added benefit of it being a great training/racing boat for adults as well. The growth of the Quest, with over 1000 boats sold worldwide in under two years, points to a long and successful future for the class. In Australia the Quest has been chosen as the replacement boat for the Australian 12 foot Cadet Class which is used extensively as a training dinghy and competes annually in the prestigious Stonehaven Cup, now in its 89th year.

Mark: Do you see sailing clubs as the life-blood of our sport?

Tom: Absolutely, and especially the smaller clubs that are run by enthusiastic volunteers, week in and week out, spreading the enjoyment of sailing. It is these clubs that I think can mainly benefit from the opportunity to have a new set of multi-purpose training boats that they can use for racing, social cruising, picnic days and the like. Often the smaller clubs have good contacts with local businesses and their council to generate sponsorship which is essential for the ongoing survival of many clubs.

I see Sailing Raceboats, and this particular offer, as pivotal in helping these clubs expand their sailing activities. We have already helped a number of clubs with the purchase of training boats with fleet discounts and interest free payment plans.

Mark: What trends have you observed in Australian sailing participation over the last 10 years? Are open regattas popular or is sailing based more around club sailing?

Tom: An interesting question. Sailing participation has fallen dramatically at virtually all clubs in Australia over the last ten years. This has been very obvious at some local clubs we know. It was common that twenty to thirty juniors would be sailing and racing over a weekend but these numbers have dwindled to almost nothing. Look at the club racing results of any of the Australian sailing clubs and compare the numbers over the last five years. The trend is most definitely downwards.

Club regattas are not that common here as the distance between clubs can be enormous. Most sailors try to attend their National Class or State Class Championships often spending up to two days driving either way, which is not unusual.

Mark: What sailing have you done yourself?

Tom: I started sailing in the UK at the age of ten. Prior to moving to Australia seventeen years ago with an OK dinghy my greatest passion was sailing National 12s. I first met Jo Richards in the Twelves over 35 years ago and who would ever have guessed I would be so closely involved today with Jo’s designs (the RS Quest and RS Aero).

Mark: What would you regard as success for this initiative?

Tom: My personal goal is to see at least fifty new Fevas and Quests in Australia by Christmas. Success has been achieved with the support of Australian Sailing, plus we already have orders for over 25 boats following the soft launch of this initiative. These orders have been received from as far afield as Perth and North Queensland.

Mark: Are the RS team in the UK supportive of this scheme?

Tom: Absolutely. We consider ourselves an outpost of their company and the best way of getting sailors to appreciate the quality and diversity of the RS range is to have examples being used at sailing clubs throughout the country.

Mark: Do you think this scheme could be replicated worldwide?

Tom: There is no reason why not, but an organisation would need to be able to donate the funds. Unlike the UK and New Zealand, Australian sailing clubs get very little external funding from lottery grants etc so the requirement is not as strong there.

Mark: Have you any plans for other similar initiatives?

Tom: Not for the Feva and Quest, but we have thoughts for other boats in the RS range. Also an idea for a Mobile Sailing School concept, however we will need some top quality, committed coaches to move this project forward.

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