Now that Spring is here, and your boats are ready for a new season, it’s time to get your fleet ready for the 2016 season.
That’s right, get your fleet ready.
Your local fleet organizes and conducts local racing, seminars and regattas. Groups of fleets banded together become yacht/sailing clubs, ILCA districts and regions, and ultimately the Class itself. Growth at the fleet level is crucial to the growth of the class. Now is the perfect time to plan and organize the activities that will ensure your fleet, club, and the class grows this year.
Allan Terhune once told me that the key to fleet growth was all about the back half of the fleet. Fleets grow or die there, he said. The people in the front are dedicated, and will always show up, always sail the big events, but those in the back half are not as motivated and have many other options to choose from.
Our job as Fleet officers is to make sure those people stick with Lightning’s. A fleet with the courage to discover why the last two or three people left might be able to make some simple changes and get them back. A Lightning lab, post race de-brief sessions (like we do at the Circuit or NAs), or arranging local experts to jump in the boats at the back for an evening or two could be very effective here.
Often, the addition or subtraction of only a single boat per year, year over year, will make or break a fleet. Like football’s turnover ratio, it is a lot better to be ‘Plus One’ rather than ‘Minus One’ at the end of a game/season. Our experience in Colorado has been that fleets that are ‘Minus One’ for more than a year or two are gone shortly after that. Now is the perfect time to do the planning to make sure that your fleet is ‘Plus One’ this year…and next year, and the year after that.
For example, have you found that it has gotten harder and harder to attract and keep sailors with young families active in your fleet? Do you know how old their kids are, and what activities are competing for their attention? Your fleet may have raced every Thursday night for generations, but if youth soccer in your community holds their games that evening, you are competing against every middle school in your community. Racing on Wednesday might be a much better option.
Now is the time to do the research needed to figure out such things, to schedule a Lightning Lab, to establish a fleet level ‘boat grant’ program, to talk to your juniors about going to the WJMs next summer, and to do all of the other things that make your fleet a special place to be in your community.
Making some decent but older boats available is also a good idea. The newest member of our fleet, for example, is a high school student that just bought his first boat. Yes, it needs a little elbow grease, but it was cheap and he has the time and a huge smile on his face! We are delighted to see him sailing with us. If you know where the boats that are no longer active in your fleet have gone, and why they have faded away, then you will be able to find ways to bring them back or get them passed on to active sailors.
I have noticed editorials in the sailing press lately concerning the lack of places for young people to go when they exit the highly structured and coached world of junior programs, high school and college sailing. Suddenly, they are on their own, and don’t know where to go. I have read that many are lost to the sport at this juncture, which is a shame.
When the NAs were on Barnegat Bay a couple of years ago, we towed out one morning