Photo: Megan McNeilly
A lot can change in a hundred years. The America’s Cup returned to the waters off the island of Manhattan after a 96 year hiatus this past weekend. Much has changed in the sailing world since that last race. New boat designs, construction materials, and sails have evolved from monohulls made from wood with canvas sails to full carbon fiber, foiling catamarans with winged sails that can propel these boats upwards of 50 miles per hour. These are not the boats your grandfather used to sail.
In addition to these new designs, the entire sport of sailing has also evolved. What was once a sport dominated by only a select few, sailing is adapting to become an activity that is able to be enjoyed by anyone. It’s not necessary to be a boat owner to get out and participate. There are community sailing programs on waterways all around the world. This is especially advantageous if you don’t live in a town named Annapolis, Newport, or San Francisco.
Additionally, what better way to expose sailing to people who wouldn’t normally be around it than bring it to a venue that can accommodate a large number of spectators and put them up close and personal to the action. As was seen this weekend, the crowds along the Hudson River numbered up to 175,000 in total. Most of these people had never even seen a sailing regatta up close. Many had probably never even been that close to a sailboat before. That’s what is so great about having events like these in cities like New York and Chicago.
Whether you are a cruising sailor, racing sailor, or a couch sailor, sailing is a fantastic way to build character and encourage teamwork among those involved. A group called “Rocking the Boat” out of the south Bronx was on hand at Brookfield Place showcasing how they are using sailing and boat building to do just that. They are bringing teenagers from one of the most impoverished areas in the U.S. and using boat building as a catalyst to build leaders in their community. And they are doing it in a successful way that is being modeled around the country in under-served areas.
Granted, many will argue that the sailing was pretty abysmal this past weekend with the Hudson’s insanely strong currents and the winds as unpredictable as New York City traffic. Saturday’s winds were virtually non-existent. Sunday, the winds were gusting in the upper 20’s with sustained winds around 15. That is, 15 knots sustained where the buildings along the shore didn’t block the wind completely. While these obstacles proved to be challenging and gave the skippers and their crews a run for their money, the spectators on shore really got a feeling for how tough sailing can be and how the leader board can change at any time.
So with the ever expanding availability of sailing all around the world and even more events happening like the America’s Cup and the Volvo Ocean Race, there is no reason why we all can’t take advantage of this amazing sport. Sailing can be a sport for everyone – no matter what your background or locale. We can only dream as to what will happen to the sport of sailing in the next hundred years. Could we possibly see foiling monohulls in the next America’s Cup? Why not?
Hopefully we won’t have to wait another hundred years to get the AC back to New York.
Check out more organizations striving to improve Community Sailing:
Try Googling your area for other community sailing organizations.
Use this map from US Sailing to find centers in your community: