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What's their secret?

by Mark Jardine 28 Jun 19:30 BST
WASZPs blasting off the start line at the 2020 Australian Nationals © Harry Fisher

The sailing landscape is changing just as fast as life in general. While some classes have struggled with this, others have embraced it and are seeing huge growth as a result. Their 'secret', of course, is a myriad of factors, but there are common threads.

Who better to ask about these successes than the people who do so much behind the scenes for these classes? We spoke to some of the visionaries to get their views on what it takes to foster growth and achieve high turnouts at events...

The WASZP - foiling goes mainstream

Australian Marc Ablett (head of WASZP Global Sales & Marketing) has been the man behind much of the growth in the class and is extremely open about the formula for success:

"There is no secret why the WASZP has become successful and had outstanding growth since production began in 2016. The key is culture, understanding why the product exists, and driving that message down the fleet.

"Sailors are the best ambassadors for any class. Since the beginning, we have listened and learned from sailors at the grassroots level, asking what they want. Simplicity, accessibility, and an on-water/off-water culture justifies the time we spend doing the sport. If you have a terrible day on the water but can come off the water and enjoy yourself, then you have already won.

"Too many people do things because they think they should be doing it, not because they enjoy it. WASZP has always focussed on why people were turning away from the sport or losing interest it. Rather than canvassing people on why they enjoy the sport, we canvas people who have lost interest or are drifting away. Why? Because the drop off after youth sailing is incredible and the talent loss is amazing. Through WASZP, we have created a reason to stay engaged with the sport: great events with a beach party atmosphere, affordable equipment, cheap maintenance, and a youth alignment with SailGP which raised the elite youth engagement up to an age of 21.

"Young people love to travel, hang out with their mates and spend time on the water - not in the boat park fixing boats. We have one of the most diverse fleets globally, with strong female participation as the boat is a genuine level platform for men and women to compete equally, while the masters section of the fleet loves to travel for holidays with friends and family and race against their mates.

"WASZP, as a manufacturer from the very beginning, has taken the stance to continually re-invest in our customers/sailors. We want them to have an 'elite experience' every time they rig up and go sailing or attend an event. Our events are structured so that we always go to great locations that are a good fit for both sailing and fostering the off-water culture.

"We have provided infrastructure for local associations to follow a scaled-down model of our major events for their local versions. This includes consistency the whole way through, and people can attend an event knowing what they are to expect. We always aim to keep the cost down for our events and always try and include more value than the sailors' outlay.

"Everything that is cumbersome about sailing (and going to an event) we have tried to mitigate, like measurement, AGMs, organising things to do for the family while sailing, maintenance, finding spare parts, and travelling. WASZP's willingness to continue to provide resources to fill the void as the class grows is a significant driver. We have recently employed Martin Evans as our class manager to look after all the associations' needs, manage our bespoke class admin system Race Hub and manage all tier 1 and 2 events. This appointment creates consistency in delivery and message from the top down to the sailors."

The Europe class revival

It isn't just new classes which have seen growth. The Europe class saw the largest turnout for decades in the recently held UK Nationals in Weymouth. Ben Harris of the UK class association gives us his opinion on what have been the drivers behind this, concentrating on the strength of community and the boat itself:

"The Europe class has seen an incredible rebirth and resurgence in the UK over the past few years, largely driven by an enthusiastic committee and the development of a strong community of sailors using a Facebook group, with Europe sailors, past, present and future, all sharing their knowledge, experience and support, regardless of background or boat. Lots of older boats have been refurbished and are back out on the water, remaining as competitive as they were when they disappeared into a garage, boat park or hedge!

"The UK fleet benefits from the enthusiasm and expertise of some of the class's top sailors and equipment suppliers, with new boats now being built in the UK as well as imported from abroad. The association has worked to secure top quality venues, hosting events with perfect sailing conditions, and a friendly, welcoming atmosphere onshore.

"This is all underpinned by how fun the Europe is to sail: comfortable to hike upwind, a pleasure to sail downwind, and a blast on a reach. The technical rig and dynamic controls allow all sailors to enjoy the boat across the full wind range, and the class has embraced the hugely wide range of sailors, with great gender diversity, a weight range from 50-80+ kg, and with ages ranging from youth sailors to some over 70 years old!"

Youth movement in the Snipe class

According to Shan McAdoo, Captain of Snipe Fleet 554, the recent youth movement in the Snipe class is due to a confluence of things:

"Firstly, there is the boat and the class. The boat is perfectly suited to double-handed sailing with a design that emphasizes longevity. Ten-year-old boats still win boats regattas regularly. The class emphasizes getting young sailors to attend with Under 30 events, prizes, and most importantly a culture that helps young sailors take the step into boat ownership and self-supported campaigns with clinics and training.

"Secondly, the events are designed to attract sailors. They are spaced apart and sailed in great venues. The motto "Serious sailing, Serious fun" includes challenging races and fun landside social events, combined with tons of well-coordinated marketing, meaning that everyone knows our events are happening. We strive to make sure that the boat that finishes last had a good time and will be back.

"Finally, there is the state of the world and sailing. Young people do not have the resources to support big boats and the campaigns they require. The Snipe remains one of the most affordable boats to buy and to sail competitively. This, combined with a culture of support within the class, for example, veteran sailors regularly bring tools and parts to help the new guys get up to speed."

"Our next big event is the Snipe North Americans being held in September. We are taking steps to maximize the fun and participation."

Australian Sabre class going strong after 50 years

Community, culture, and the boat itself are credited as the factors explaining the strength of the Sabre class in Australia, as Sabre Victorian President Bruce Abbott explains:

"The Sabre was born in Australia some 50 years ago as a low cost, intermediate one-design dinghy suitable for Port Phillip Bay conditions (strong winds and waves). Initially all were amateur built in marine ply, however they have moved with the times with most are now professionally built in FRP - durable and low maintenance.

"Sabres are well suited for early-stage sailors, those re-entering sailing, and those looking to sail in large fleets. It is also an immensely popular class for female sailors. Despite interruptions due to Covid restrictions, there were 62 entries at the Victorian State Championships in March 2021 at McCrae YC, creating interesting starts and good racing throughout the fleet. The Sabre fleet in Australia continues to grow.

"A critical and often overlooked aspect is the 'Sabre culture'; it's one of encouraging the newcomer to the class, and includes club and state-based coaching by our more experienced sailors. We want sailors to enjoy their sailing and grow in competence. However, we also freely admit that the Sabre may not be suited to all sailors; there are plenty of other choices for those wanting straight speed, Olympic and international competition or a larger boat."

Adrian Finglas, best known as a three-time coach of Australia's Olympic Sailing Team, joined the Sabre fleet at Black Rock YC last season. Adrian sees the Sabre as: "cost effective, has good racing, and although it's one design, you can tinker with placement of fittings, toe straps, mast rake etc - it keeps the inquisitive mind engaged. Having bought a boat, I'm impressed with the camaraderie and openness, allowing me to fast-track measurements and techniques."

Global success for the RS Aero built on a warm welcome and strong communication

If you're an Aero sailor, as well as many other classes, you'll know Peter Barton. As the RS Aero Association Manager, he's been instrumental in the lightweight dinghy's growth, as well as one of the top sailors in the class:

"In the RS Aero class I strive to cultivate an ethos of welcoming all new owners and sharing information to allow them to progress quickly through their familiarisation with the boat and beyond. This enthuses everyone and enables new sailors to progress to achieve more enjoyment and value from their RS Aero. That then adds to our racing both in numbers and quality where, without that input, it is possible that their participation might have been more limited, especially if in isolation.

"Throughout the past 18 months we continued to take any opportunity to get afloat where safely possible. When we couldn't get afloat our online media helped keep our audience engaged as well as reaching remote owners (both current and future) with 'RS Aero Top Tips' on the class website forum (there is a series of 90 now!) and weekly video training over Zoom, which grew to have an international following peaking at over 50 participants in various time zones!"

A record attendance for the Blaze class

Allen's Ben Harden regularly writes articles about Blaze events, as well as being the UK national champion! He believes the success of the class is down to a combination of elements:

"The Blaze fleet had its biggest ever National Championship attendance this year, which I believe is a result of several important factors. Firstly, we have a boat builder which is continually supporting the class and listening to the feedback from the class association. This can be seen with the new sail the class has just released, which was developed by the boat builder on feedback from the sailors.

"Secondly, the Blaze class has a range of price entry points available. Those who have never sailed the boat before, wanting to test the waters before putting down big bucks, can do so by starting in a 20-year-old Mk1 or Mk2 for a very reasonable 1500 GBP - a lot of boat for the money! And these older boats are still extremely competitive and regularly seen at the front of the fleet. Once the sailor is hooked, which is inevitable, they can then upgrade to a newer Mk3 or the latest Mk4 from 4000+ GBP, depending on the specifications they are looking for. This in turn feeds their older boat back onto new sailors. This is proved by the Blaze second-hand market; it's almost impossible to find one!"

No single factor, but common threads

So, as we suspected, there isn't one elixir which will guarantee success for a class. Community, ethos, sailor engagement and builder support all come into it, but behind every strong class is either an individual, or group of people, who spend their time implementing strategies and fostering growth.

Publicising what a class is up to - for example, sending your event reports to the sailing media - is a hugely important element of telling the sailing community what's happening, and we would love to hear what you're up to via editor@sail-world.com and club@yachtsandyachting.com.

We'd also love to hear what you're doing within your class to drive growth. Tell us what has worked and what hasn't. If we can all learn from the successes, then the whole of sailing will benefit, from the smallest club to the largest of international events.

In the team at Sail-World.com and YachtsandYachting.com participation is our passion, and it's the passionate and dedicated people within our sport who are the drivers behind growth. There is no 'secret' to making sailing more popular, and those who are making the biggest difference are open with advice. Yet another reason sailing is a sport that is great to be involved in.

Mark Jardine
Sail-World.com and YachtsandYachting.com Managing Editor

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