Thursday, April 28, 2011

Need to assess who the customers are

I remember it well. The Snipe class had awarded the 1995 U.S. Nationals to Richmond Yacht Club on San Francisco Bay. Now, this is a great club with a one design tradition, and it was the hub of Snipe racing on the Bay. But the Nationals were scheduled for August. And on SF Bay, the wind snorts in August.

The Snipe class is main/jib only doublehander that’s popular on both coasts, but also quite popular in the interior of the country. I knew the top teams would welcome the venue, but big wind, waves, and current would be a bit much for the lake sailors. To get a good attendance at this event, the organizers would have to lie through their teeth about the conditions.

When I say lie, I mean it in only the savviest marketing sense. They just left out details. Their big pitch was that the race course would be close to the club, and positioned in the lighter winds to leeward of Angel Island. And this was all true. But the reality is that Angel Island could only do so much, and when the fleet got out to the reach mark (because we reached back then), it was a carnival of carnage.

Despite their marketing plan, the event only drew 41 boats, lowest turnout in 43 years. I recall the first couple days during qualifying, where my wife/crew and I raced only as much as we had to so as to save strength for the finals. We weren’t in good enough shape to sail full-on for five days, and this strategy helped us survive to finish second overall.

Why am I sharing this story? In two weeks, the Melges 24 World Championship will be held in Corpus Christi, Texas. This class has grown to be an exceedingly competitive fleet, and the conditions for this Worlds are going to be warm and windy, really really windy. For a well-sailed sportboat, this should be Mecca. So why have only 34 boats registered?

I believe the top teams will go just about anywhere to compete. Give them a decent location with decent conditions, and they will fight it out for the big pickle dish. But for the rest of the class, the Worlds should provide a convention of both competition and camaraderie. And this venue appears to have missed the mark. Said one professional sailor who preferred to remain nameless, “You couldn’t pay me enough to sail this year. That event is going to eat up the crew.”

No doubt, the sailing in Corpus is going to be off the hook, and I have every reason to believe the event hosts at Corpus Christi Yacht Club will show competitors a great time - because that’s how they roll in the south. But when the event only pulls 34 boats, half that of the previous year in Estonia and two thirds of the 2009 entrants in Annapolis for a dreary fall event, all class organizers need to assess who the customers are, and how can they best be served. -- Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt

Here's a training run by Bora Gulari, who has seen gusts to 35 knots, and is preparing for it to be a 'manly Worlds'.

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At 8:36 PM, Blogger Regatta Reports said...

So the Melges 24 skippers are afraid of a little wind? J-80s sailed their worlds their in 2006 with no problems. Melges 24 sailors are wimps!

At 2:30 AM, Blogger Fred said...

@ Wimp..errg Regatta Report,
you should read twice through the report to get the message. I think that Craig is damned right with what he observes. The sailing must have a social side and if the conditions are wearing the competitors out by strong wind or cold or both than this comes short and a long trip and valuable holidays are not spend well for the AM sailor.

At 6:40 AM, Anonymous Craig Leweck said...

I once competed at a Nationals in Miami in June. Every day ended in our asses getting kicked in a thunderstorm. Wet, tired, and fixing gear was how each day ended. After four days of competition, I realized I had yet to go into the YC bar for a beverage. That's not the way it should be.


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