What’s Ailing Sailing

You know what’s more addictive, infuriating and pointless than talking about the current presidential primary circus? Talking about what’s ailing sailing and racing.

Yet, that’s what I’ll do. Give a guy a blog and keyboard…..

The first question is, IS sailing ailing? After all, the marinas are filled with sailboats. At this time of the year there are races nearly every day somewhere in my home waters of the Pacific Northwest. Cruisers head out to near and far destinations every day. And the high school sailing scene is healthy and growing, the Sail Sand Point community boating center is thriving and the sailing schools around town often sell out. Talk about sailing with someone and 9/10 times their eyes light up and they say they’d love to sail.

Ah, but it IS ailing.

This photo and the shot of the Coronado 25 "Better Days" were taken at the Leschi Marina on Lake Washington in Seattle.
This photo and the shot of the Coronado 25 “Better Days” were taken at Leschi Marina on Lake Washington in Seattle.

For several years, less than 1% of new boats sold in Washington have been sailboats. Yep, on that score we’re statistically pretty insignificant. I’m not sure what it is in the rest of the country but I’ll be the numbers are similar.

And those boats in the marinas? Take a good look at them. How many look like they’ve been sailed in the last week, month, year, even decade?

The racing fleets? In terms of participation, most of today’s races in the Northwest are mere ghosts of what they were “back in the day.” The “day” being the 1970s-1990s when there were fewer people to draw from, the equipment (including the boats themselves) wasn’t nearly as user friendly or fast, and the clothing wasn’t nearly as warm. Today there are 70 boats when 20 years ago there were 150 and 10 years before that there were 300.

Bless those people who think that sailboat racing is doing OK. It’s simply not.

There are bright spots to talk about, and I certainly will in the future on this blog. And I’m hoping that readers will share information about the bright spots I know nothing about.

My goal isn’t to rail against things (that’d be about as productive as commenting on Trump). I want to figure out why sailing’s ailing and if something can or should be done about it. Bear with me as I piece my thoughts together as they come to me and as time allows.

Here are some of the tacks I’ll take in the coming posts. Working titles, sequence and existence of the following are subject to change and the whims of the author.

Ailing, Not Dead

The Boats are Not The Problem

Culture is the Problem

Why the hell should it cost so much? Or does it?

Any idiot can work on a boat, and many do

Can somebody please kill the America’s Cup and 007?

Kids, They’re Not the Future, they’re the Present

Racing: Yeah, I’ll be talking about handicapping among other things

Clubs or Pubs?





Kurt grew up racing and cruising in the Midwest, and has raced Lasers since the late 1970s. He has been Assistant Editor at Sailing Magazine and a short stint as Editor of Northwest Yachting. Through Meadow Point Publishing he handles various marketing duties for smaller local companies. He currently is partners on a C&C 36 which he cruises throughout the Northwest. He's married to the amazing Abby and is father to Ian and Gabe.

5 thoughts on “What’s Ailing Sailing

  • April 25, 2016 at 2:32 pm

    It will be interesting to read more about this topic, Kurt. Thanks in advance for your work on this piece. Schelleen Rathkopf, Whidbey Island Race Week

    • April 25, 2016 at 3:26 pm

      Yeah, Schelleen, I’m going to explore a few of my own thoughts and hopefully generate some discussion. It’s a great sport that in some ways seems off course. Of course any thoughts you have from atop YC V are more than welcome!

  • April 25, 2016 at 11:51 pm

    I’m very interested to read your thoughts on this. One question I have (apologies to Sigmund Freud) is: “What do non-sailors want?” That is, I wonder if we sometimes try to push rope (line?) in promoting sailing to non sailors, to get them to want to enjoy the same things about it that WE enjoy about it.

    Think of all the offices in the area that look out over Puget Sound, Lake Union, and Lake Washington. How can those folks can possibly resist the urge to find a way to get on the water? Specifically: what stops young, urban wage-earners in the PNW from getting into sailing?

    • April 26, 2016 at 12:16 am

      Hi Margaret!

      Let’s figure out a way to ask them.

      There’s a whole lot of preaching to the choir in promoting sailing instead of going out and preaching to the unwashed, as it were. A non-scientific survey might give us some indication. Hmmmm, now I really can’t sleep.


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