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Youth show the way

by Mark Jardine 17 May 14:00 PDT
Guy Bridge in the semi finals of the Formula Kite Mixed Team Relay Europeans © IKA / Alex Schwarz

World Sailing held their crucial mid-year meeting last week to decide the alternative for the Mixed Offshore Keelboat event at the Paris Olympics, and while the 470 class put up a strong case for having separate Men's and Women's 470 events, the Council voted solidly in favour of separate Men's and Women's Kiteboard events.

Barring a minor miracle, the Mixed Offshore Keelboat event will be ditched by the IOC, despite some of their concerns being addressed in separate paper presented Matt Allen, Chair of the Oceanic & Offshore Committee. World Sailing's leaders continued to speak positively about the offshore event, reiterating it was their first choice, but the tide is firmly against them.

In many ways, this gets World Sailing out of a bit of a fix as the mixed kiteboard relay event was confused to say the least, but the process to get to this point has been laborious, long-winded and put many potential Paris 2024 campaigns on ice.

They key now is securing the tenth medal for the Olympics, and World Sailing keeping on the right side of the IOC. As CEO David Graham pointed out in no uncertain terms, World Sailing needs the Olympic sailing to remain solvent and even held off publishing accounts until it is confirmed that the delayed Tokyo 2020 event goes ahead.

A vote was held with the aim of the Finn class to become the heavyweight men's singlehander, but this was blocked, and the class's 69-years at the event (going back to the Great Dane Paul Elvstrøm's gold medals in the 1952, 56 and 60 Games) is coming to an end.

Olympic sailing is now firmly for young and lightweight sailors and increasingly foiling, with first the Nacra 17s and now the Windfoil windsurfers and Kitefoilers. There is of course a massive outcry from heavier sailors, who highlight the great sportsmen who have been through the class - such as Elvstrøm, Coutts, Bertrand and Ainslie - but the Olympics is desperate to court a younger audience and sailing has to follow suit.

Open meeting aches

I took part in my first open meeting for a fair while over the weekend, sailing my Frankenlaser at the Keyhaven Laser event. There was a superb entry of 44 boats, with some extremely talented youths showing us older sailors just how to do it.

There is no shortage of skill in the youth ranks and watching them hiking hard in 25 knots was impressive. I was happy to be 'up there' during the first beat until I missed my mainsheet while swapping hands, capsized to windward and laughed at my lack of practice - although not quite as hard as my friend on the rescue boat!

I spent the day much closer to the back of the fleet than the front from then on, but it was a great day on the water, with the aches and pains setting in with a vengeance on Sunday morning.

Sadly, my Frankenlaser is also beginning to show its 43 years and developed yet another crack, resulting in it getting progressively lower in the water and requiring a long drain at the end of the three races. I think it's time to look for a replacement hull before it suffers from a more serious failure...

Bluebottle back racing

One keelboat that is looking exceptionally good for her age is Bluebottle, the late Duke of Edinburgh's Dragon which was presented to Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness Prince Philip as a wedding present by the Island Sailing Club in 1947.

The yacht has an exceptional history, being loaned to the British sailing team competing at the Melbourne Olympics in 1956, with Lt Cdr Graham Mann at the helm, winning a Bronze Medal.

Having been lovingly restored by David Heritage, Bluebottle was the first entry for the 2021 Edinburgh Cup, the British National Championship, with husband and wife team of Graham and Julia Bailey aboard, each who have won the trophy previously.

Boating bonanza

Coastal and inland venues were buzzing all weekend in the UK with a multitude of events taking place. In addition to the Laser Open I took part in, the RS Aeros gathered a record 65 entries at Lymington, with a strong fleet of XODs out as well, the Etchells were racing from Cowes, the Merlin Rockets were out at Parkstone, the foiling Moths were blasting around in Portland harbour and I'm sure we'll be receiving many more reports from around the world as the week progresses.

Boating and sailing is showing a strong resurgence as we slowly emerge from this pandemic, and we all need to grab this opportunity to help more people enjoy the water. If you know a family who are wanting to get afloat, then please give them all the assistance and advice you can. Sailing can be daunting to newcomers, so a helping hand can make all the difference as to whether they enjoy the experience and make the right decisions on joining clubs and which type of boat to sail.

Adapt to survive and thrive

So many clubs are adapting, making sailing more accessible and welcoming, but there is a long way to go for many others. We all need to be learning from the best practice and initiatives that have been shown to work to keep sailing clubs active and stop the trend of membership decline.

Those clubs which have embraced change have reversed that decline and are now seeing increased activity with enthusiastic young families all out on the water. This of course has the knock-on effect of making club catering more viable and generally lifting the atmosphere.

For clubs looking to change I strongly recommend revisiting the Future of Sailing webinar series. Now more than ever is the time to enact change and put your club back on a healthy footing.

As I saw first-hand over the weekend, there are talented youth sailors out on the water enjoying the sport at a highly competitive level, but let's make sure all youngsters can enjoy the experience of sailing, regardless of whether they choose to sail competitively or not.

Mark Jardine and Managing Editor

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