In 2015, in my pitifully small number of posts, I wrote a bit about the wholesale changing of the state of sailing, and how hydrofoil technology was rapidly infiltrating every corner of the sport. Well, it has, and what a year that was! The Extreme Sailing Series announced its switch to foiling catamarans, the America’s Cup Teams moved into their second versions of test boats, the Kitefoil Gold Cup doubled in participation and even though the foiling Waszp wasn’t in full production, a competitor started prototyping another “recreational” version of the Moth.
The year ended with some of the world’s top professional sailors racing wing-bar-to-wing-bar at the Amlin International Moth Regatta in Bermuda. I wrote about it in Seahorse magazine. It was astonishing to see winner Rob Greenhalgh and Olympic Gold Medalist Paul Goodison flying up the beats in 25-knot rain squalls never losing a foot to each other in foiling tacks, and picking off 3-degree shifts for lead changes. When the “masses” get to see this closeup, what will they have to channel that excitement?
In 2016, a pocket, beach catamaran foiler, car topable, is coming out of the molds, several cruising cats are being announced with “z” lifting foils and besides the Vendee Globe proving year for the near-foiling IMOCA solo sleds, the cruising monohull world is poised to stick foils out the side to handle more horsepower and steady the ride.
Sailing sponsors have been looking for mass media appeal since professionalism crept into the once-largely corinthian realm of the sport in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Not enough pro events to follow, and little to no tangible access to the type of boats used in pro series has kept events and their sponsors struggling to get eyeballs/viewership.
In 2016, nearly a dozen professional sailing tours, including youth pathways, Olympic sailing going full professional, AND heavy efforts to produce recreational versions of the foilers the pros are racing (and cool foils being put on recreational monohulls) seem to be finally making that mass appeal connection.
If there are more events to watch, with recognizable characters across the range and something to buy to help channel/capture that interest, then sailing may finally dig its fingernails into the holy grail of sport: investment, both in fan base and participation.
Though a little beach foiler is exciting, and will likely boost participation in sailing and even viewership of pro events, I believe mass appeal of the sport can certainly be found in the adventure lifestyle of cruising. Couples like the circumnavigators Hiscocks and Pardeys have shown that sailing around the world, as a lifestyle, is possible, challenging and ultra rewarding, lecturers like Pam Wall who does seminars for West Marine on cruising as a family go even further.
In the May issue of Cruising World I wrote about three families who couldn’t resist the temptations and potential rewards of adventures like Pam Wall’s. The more “average” people who successfully tackle these challenges, and with a growing insatiable appetite for online family adventure ideas, the more “sailing away” will seem attainable.
With alluring destinations like Cuba opening up for cruisers and racers, exciting possibilities for ocean traveling are real. I wrote about a sneaky trip there in the February 2016 issue of SAIL magazine.
The Cruising World issue just hit the stands and I have received literally dozens of emails saying how cool they thought that story was and that they are inspired. I get far less response from even my most viewed (online) New York Times sports stories.
Taping into the broader appeal of the cruising/passagemaking set is the exceptionally well produced Podcast 59North by Andy and Mia Schell.
Andy and Mia offer sailing adventures on their Swan 48 Isbjorn. They take you on passages across oceans, between islands and even in offshore races. They teach you how to handle ocean sailing and also enjoy the challenges and serenity of it all. Andy also interviews offshore sailors, industry legends, event organizers and boat manufacturers, and through his hour-long discussions, has been gauging the temperature of the adventure side of our sport. His recent interview with Jesse and Samantha Osborne who sailed through the Northwest Passage dodging Polar Bears and averaging 3-knots so they don’t “come upon the ice too fast” is the stuff National Geographic articles are made of.
I mention this along with hydrofoiling and media attention because as pro events rise, they bring attention to the sport and the technologies being exploited/developed. There are growing outlets for that interest, stuff to buy and use to go riding on the water. The introduction of horizontal or DSS-type foils to cruising boats is going to link these two spaces and the cumulative result could very well have multiplayer effect on interest and participation in sailing.
Small boat and particularly high performance sailing is not for everyone, though Hobie Alter proved with his cats that it can be for tons of people. A heeling, undulating monohull cruising boat, at least underway when it is exhibiting these traits, is not for everyone either. Steady that ride out, draw a connection to the coolest and most high profile avenues of the sport, then you may have something.
This year will be equally as dynamic as last. The one elephant in the room, however, is waterfront access and COST. Until those two points are addressed, the struggle to turn mass appeal into mainstream acceptance will remain just that.