Optimistic about the future of Sailing

14 December 2006

Victorian sailor Steven Bond starting sailing Sabots and Lasers out of Mornington Yacht Club as a child, moved up to Etchells and then into Big Boats. Last year he was shocked to discover his home club had only ONE junior sailor and he set out to do something about that.

Bond recognised the Optimist Dinghy could be the key to the future. There are 400,000 of these snub nosed dinghies world-wide and it’s not unusual to see 1,000 boats at the European Championships. With 150,000 active sailors, it is by far the largest class world-wide.

'If clubs have falling junior numbers they should be firstly addressing the levels of participation in the clubs and we have now developed a program to help them,' explains Bond.

He relates how it all happened.

'Just over a year ago I arranged for the VIODA (Victorian International Optimist Dinghy Association) kids to sail on Grant Wharington’s Maxi yacht Skandia-Wild Thing at Mornington Yacht Club, with the view of showing them where the sport of sailing can lead to; undoubtedly sailing along at 18 knots (two knots above wind speed) was an experience all of them enjoyed and can carry forward.

'A dozen kids bought their Opti’s down from Sandringham Yacht Club and did a few short course races prior to the sail. At the kid’s suggestion, I offered the Mornington Yacht Club's (MYC) juniors the chance to sail the Opti’s whilst their skippers were out on Skandia. The Mornington Yacht Club's Off The Beach captain advised me that there were only three kids sailing sabots amongst the other OTB classes and that two of them had just left the club to sail elsewhere, with more kids.

'I remember as a kid the days at MYC when 40 to 50 Sabots sailed every weekend and it really fired me up to find a sustainable solution.

'It is also important to realise that this (falling junior numbers) is not just a Mornington, or Victorian or Australian problem. When I Googled ‘junior sailing’, ‘sailing introductory’, etc, etc, I was amazed to find similar reports from all around the world.

'The short list of problems that I’m sure many of you will be familiar with include;

1. Too many other options for the kids, e.g. cooler sports – like basketball, video games, DVD’s, etc
2. Yachts are too expensive for the club and families to purchase.
3. Volunteers (bless them) are scarce for running sailing schools.
4. Volunteers (bless them again) are scarce for winter maintenance.
5. Parents are time poor, (basketball for example - a game starts at 10.15, finishes 11.00)

Bond continues, 'My method is as follows; I am a one-design believer and recognise Yachting Australia insistent that the kids needed to sail an International Class and I realise there are many different takes, opinions and already established classes.

'I set out to listen to as many people as possible and along with my ‘Google’ finger, short listed the problems with a view to introducing an overall solution based on the International Optimist Dinghy, because it meets the following criteria;

1. Affordable
2. Low Maintenance
3. Stable for beginners
4. Level playing field
5. Opportunity to advance

'My goal is to work with yacht clubs to provide a schools program to increase participation, and to develop the program to improve retention rates so that there is long-term viability for the sport, for clubs, industry and all stakeholders.

'And to schieve this goal, OziOpti will establish a pilot schools program called ‘Tackers’ this summer.

'Tackers will be to sailing what Auskick is to Australian Rules Football. It aims to deliver the above stated goal, by reducing the reliance on club finances and volunteers; by utilising existing assets and the Yachting Australia 'Get Into Small Boat Sailing' syllabus which will be delivered by existing YA instructors and an intake of new instructors; providing Oppi sailing dinghies in exchange for sponsorship rights which involves local business people, delivering a broader community benefit.

'Within three years we plan to have Tackers operating at 60 yacht clubs around Australia, introducing 60,000 primary school students to the sport each year. Tackers will also begin mobile services to cater for kids in regional areas.

'By introducing the support of local business we can build a sustainable program. It is anticipated that governments of all levels will eventually support the program with cash, kind, services, etc, but the reality is that our sport needs to drive this program itself in order to prosper in the future.'

The Mornington Yacht Club time line and what can be and indeed has been, achieved in 1 year:

August 2005: 1 junior sailor at MYC.

Sept to Dec 2005: OziOpti works with MYC parents towards a training
program and local business funding of boats.

December 2005: 5 Oppi sail training dinghies (poly) delivered. MYC Training Program over booked.

January 2006: 5 more Oppi delivered
Regular 20 kids sailing
40+ kids through program
Squad of 12 training

February 2006: Lidgett Cup participation

March 2006: Sail Boat Show ‘go sailing’ demonstration

April 2006: OziOpti ‘6 for 5’ Offer accepted by 5 parents

August 2006: OziOpti’s delivered to 6 individual kids.

Sept – Dec 2006: Fundraising raffle of OziOpti donated boat for benefit of junior sailing at MYC.

December 2006: MYC to host Pacific Rim Championships.

Bond continues; 'Mornington Yacht Club will be conducting junior programs throughout school holidays, they have arranged with some local schools to conduct schools sailing and already have three or four more kids keen to get Opti’s before the Pacific Rim Championships.

'So in just over a year we are seeing the return of kids to MYC in large numbers. Around the world the Optimist Dinghy fleets mushroom from similar beginnings. There are more than 600 Optimists sailing in New Zealand and 300 in Singapore,' concludes Bond.

If your Club has falling Junior numbers now is a good time to talk to Steven Bond.

To learn more about OziOpti program contact Steven Bond at oziopti.com.au - 0424225774.


by Rob Kothe

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