As we gear up to head to sunny St. Petersburg for our first Opti regatta of the season, I can’t help but laugh as I flashback to just two weeks ago, when this mountain felt like it might be impossible to climb:
To myself: “We still need a coach boat. How is it possible that [crazy astronomical price] a day is the going rate for a coach boat? We can’t possibly ask our parents to cover that after they’re already spending so much just to get there!” Well, as luck and a parent-more-connected-than-she-initially-thought would have it, we got our boat.
Parent of junior sailor: “I just texted a few people I know from the area. Fingers crossed!”
Me: “Fingers crossed indeed!”
Person unknown to me: “Hi [Parent of Sailor]. [So-and-so] is a high school classmate of yours. She might be able to help you out!”
So-and-so from high school, before we even have a chance to say thanks for the electronic reunion: “Hi [Parent of Sailor]. I just heard back from my son’s coach and his rib is available. Here’s his contact info.”
Parent of sailor’s high school classmate’s son’s coach (within the hour): “It’s [much more reasonable price] and it’ll be waiting for you at the venue, fully gassed up. Sound ok?”
Trying to hide my overwhelmingly-appreciative-to-the-gods-of-childhood-connections tone, “Yes. That’s simply amazing. I can’t believe how incredibly generous and helpful everyone is being! …yea… that will do just fine, thanks!”
I would love to pretend that I coined the phrase, “It’s not what you know, but whom.” Up until I started sailing, I always thought that phrase held an air of elitism to it: an overarching good ole’ boys club mentality of, “If you’re not one of us, then you’re not worth our time.” I’ve since learned, ESPECIALLY when it comes to sailing, that the “in group” is huge, very generous, and hoping to envelop as many into its fold as possible. “Need a place to stay? We’ve got you covered!” “Need a boat or spare parts? Take mine!” Me: “But you don’t know me…” Them: “Sure I do. You’re so-and-so’s high school sweetheart’s brother-in-law’s son’s coach’s nephew’s teacher’s friend from Annapolis.” Or something to that effect.
It doesn’t matter how thin the lineage, if the end result is getting more people out on the water sailing, then it’s worth it. Truer thoughts have never existed when it comes to youth sailing. And multiply that times 100 when it comes to youth sailors from the Rockies. How can this be the case? On what planet does the age old sport of “Yacht Racing” lend itself to an all hands on deck, all for one and one for all mentality… well this one, apparently! But why??
To answer this question I turned to Darwin. Yes… that Darwin. What’s the goal of every species? To succeed and pass on its genes. With this lens, things became more clear. The participants in the sport of sailing (some feel) have become a dying breed. Just look at the average age of those passionate about sailing: as each year passes, it’s getting about 1 year older. This doesn’t bode well for the longevity of the sport. My Great Uncle is a prime example. Edging closer to 90, he has a laundry list of sea stories to tell you. Many of them are from his younger years and none of them involved anyone who was under the age of 50 at the time.
Is it the age of electronics? The need for speed? The if-I-can’t-do-it-from-my-phone-then-I-can’t-do-it-at-all kind of thinking that’s bringing this sport to its downfall? Who knows… not me, that’s for sure. But one thing I do know is there’s a camaraderie about sailing that can only be described with the term cross–generational.
Think of it this way: in what other sport do newbies and experts revere each other so equally? In what other sport can you compete at a high level with a parent AND grandparent on board? In what other sport is it perfectly normal to have the youngest person legitimately be in charge? In what other sport can you make fast friends over the course of a weekend only to stay at their home (or even send your kids to their home) the next time there’s a regatta in town? In what other sport is it possible to be fiercely competitive on the water then once the racing is over, enjoy a beverage with your rivals (who are decades older or younger) while intensely discussing the tricks and tips from the day as if you hadn’t yelled at or protested each other mere hours prior? I can’t think of any. This is the core that makes sailing such a unique sport. You know you’re in the right place when a group with the age range of 40+ years are all standing around, hands tacking wildly, contemplating the next shift, cloud formation or tidal factor in such detail that you’d expect them all to have backgrounds in meteorology. Sailing isn’t just a sport, it’s a way of life.
Whenever I show up at a regatta, I’m looking for other alumni from my college sailing team. Not because I want to be exclusive with those I socialize, but because I want to find out if they have a youngster I can house, support, fund, or just keep involved in some way shape or form. It is because I love the sport of sailing so much that I will beg, borrow or maybe steal (only temporarily) to make a greenhorn’s regatta experience something they’d like to repeat. Without realizing it, I fell victim to the laws of evolution. I want my sailing family to thrive! And so do countless others.
So the next time you find yourself in a situation where you’re thinking, “there’s just no way we can make that happen” or “it’s going to take a village to get this regatta off the ground” or “we can’t possibly afford to fly, charter and stay in a hotel for a 2-day event,” THINK AGAIN and then start texting, Facebooking and Instagraming your circle. Someone, I can nearly promise you, who is a sailor, or at least related to one, will come out of the woodwork, offer to help in an amazing way and make your lofty goals a reality. They will want nothing in return and upon hearing this you will vow to yourself that you want to find a way to be this person for someone else. And so it goes. This, I believe, is why sailing, above all other sports, is truly a community of philanthropists, a group who enjoys sharing everything they can, even if it’s just the love of the sport. And above all, they want to give the next generation every chance they can to be better, faster and stronger than they were.
When all of this is aimed in your (or your child’s direction) it can be overwhelming. And it’s not because you’re special: believe me, I know I’m not. This is just how amazing the sailing community can be. Welcome to the family.