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RS Sailing and the America's Cup Endeavour Junior Regattas: We speak to Jon Partridge

by Mark Jardine on 15 Jun 15 June 2017

RS Sailing's Jon Partridge is out in Bermuda, supporting the RS Fevas taking part in the America's Cup Endeavour Junior Regattas. We talked about what the regattas are hoping to achieve, how education plays a major part in the Endeavour Programme, and what can be learned from the event to help encourage increased participation in sailing.

Mark Jardine: What were your first impressions on arrival in Bermuda at the America's Cup?

Jon Partridge: I was greeted at the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, who handed us our RIB for our accommodation; we're staying on an island together with the 32 RS Feva sailors plus chaperones who are taking part in the Endeavour Programme.

First impressions here are just unbelievable. The place is buzzing: beautiful Superyachts, J Class yachts, a dream world and a great atmosphere where everybody is just talking about 'The Cup'.

What struck me the most was the openness of everyone involved in the sport, wanting to talk about what's going on. On my first day here when I had a bit of down time I visited the America's Cup Race Village, where watching the sailing is like watching a football match; it was a completely new experience for me. In the village there's a picnic area with big screens to watch the racing and there, sat at the front with his family, was SoftBank Team Japan's Chris Draper, absolutely enthralled by the action. Just knocked out of the racing in the semi finals but still a fan. You can't think of many sporting events where that happens.

Mark: We're so lucky with sailing where the top sailors in the sport are so accessible and that they want to talk to young sailors. Do you think that is one of the great aspects that sailing has?

Jon: Absolutely. The sailors are real and they're more than open to talk, encourage, motivate and inspire young sailors. I think there's a general passion from the sailors and the America's Cup organisers to grow our sport and get it to where it could be. Everyone wants to take responsibility for inspiring the next generation and they're doing their very best to do it.

Mark: The America's Cup Endeavour Programme is about getting the local kids in Bermuda out on the water and provide the 'legacy', which is talked about so much at big sporting events. Do you think the event is achieving that aim?

Jon: There are two elements to it. Firstly there's the STEAM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths), where they're teaching about the technical and science based parts of sailing and the kids are being inspired to learn about it. The second element is getting them out on the water and learning to sail. The Endeavour Programme has employed a group of support officers so that they can get people to carry on sailing at the various sailing clubs around the island. They don't see this as a one-off, they want to help people love sailing for life and become integrated into the sport. Russell Coutts is clearly very passionate about it and he's got good staff running the programme; they are working so hard to get more kids into sailing from the island.

Mark: How did RS Sailing become involved in the America's Cup Endeavour Programme?

Jon: We had a phone call from Russell Coutts! He said, "I want the Feva involved, I think it's the right kind of boat." A part of our partnership was that we provided eight boats to use for their programme and in return we have the RS Feva Endeavour Junior Regatta, which is the reason why I'm here.

Mark: Is the regatta itself all about fun?

Jon: Yes and no. It's a lot about fun but the kids want to win it! The emphasis is definitely on having a great time out on the water. The format is broken into two sections: two days of fleet racing, sailing an America's Cup style course with a top gate and a leeward gate, getting in as many races as possible. Then they watch some America's Cup racing from the grandstands on Saturday, and then on Sunday there's a 15 minute half-time show race, between races 3 and 4 of the America's Cup.

Mark: So racing right in the middle of the America's Cup?

Jon: Yes, the kids will actually be doing a 'Dock Off', where the Feva kids are introduced to the crowd as if they were sailing an America's Cup boat. The out on the water the America's Cup finish line is actually the start line for the Fevas! A lifetime experience and their prize giving will be on the stage in the America's Cup Race Village, once race 4 has finished.

Mark: Clearly you're learning a lot out in Bermuda. Do you think some of these concepts could translate to kids domestic sailing and make things more fun and help increase participation?

Jon: Absolutely. What is clear, and this is beginning to happen in the UK already, is that they're using education as a form to get people into sailing. The sport does require a lot of thinking power as it has so many variables. We need to develop a nationwide initiative which uses the basis of sailing as an education tool. The Feva class is sponsored by PA Consulting and they are very passionate about inspiring the next generation of engineers and innovators, and I think sailing can carve itself a route to saying not only is the sport fun, but it can also can provide so much from an educational point of view: about Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths. That can only be beneficial to our sport.

Mark: Many thanks for your time today Jon.

Jon: Great to talk to you and great to be here!

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