Growing up sailing in South Australia, I’ve followed a pretty simple pathway. I started in a Holdfast Trainer (aka Holdies), which is basically a two-handed Sabot with a bowsprit and a jib for those of you reading this interstate, before branching into an International Cadet, dabbling in a 420 and eventually getting on board a Lightweight Sharpie. I loved the vibe of sailing in SA from the outset, especially when we had 50-plus Holdies and more than 100 kids at our state titles running amok around the local clubs. To top it off, many of the people I sailed against then are still my best mates now.
In this day and age there is a very clear pathway set out by Australian Sailing, which we are seeing kids across the country take part in with the goal to learn and enjoy the sport and be the best they can be. The pathway starts with an Optimist and works its way up through classes like Lasers, 29ers and 420s until kids are good enough and old enough to sail one of the Olympic classes. But in order to become a good sailor and most importantly enjoy your sailing, this doesn’t necessarily need to be the path that every child follows.
Last week I had the opportunity to check out the 16ft skiffs in the heart of Manly and meet some of the sailors, which was a great experience as everyone there, much like the sharpie guys, are just a bunch of great mates that love going sailing and pulling the piss out of each other in the boat park – it’s an extremely addictive culture that I can most definitely relate to. With the fleet of 16s constantly growing and eight new boats each year being built and shipped out of China, the fleet is entering a boom time. There are more and more young guys getting involved and starting to take it up to the veterans of the class – and this can be partly attributed to the way the 16s have created their own specific pathway.
Skiffies sailors from Manly, as well as in clubs right around New South Wales, get started in the Manly Juniors before getting into the Flying 11 and then into the 13ft skiff, which is basically a smaller 16 sailed by two people. The 13ft skiff is age limited, which means by the time sailors are done with it, they’re ready to get on board a 16 and race in the grand prix-style circuit at one of the powerhouse 16ft skiff clubs on the New South Wales coastline.
Too many times in my life I’ve seen friends get to a level with their sailing where they are ready to take it to the high performance level and push for their ultimate goal – and don’t get me wrong, I fully support sailors in doing so. However sadly it seems, more often than not, these sailors end up getting burnt out or get to about 18 years old and are not quite good enough to make it into the next squad or team, eventually giving up the sport. Consequently these sailors find interest in other things such as study, work and social life and let sailing slip by the wayside.
My advice to them would be get down to their local club and get involved in a senior amateur class like a Sharpie, Fireball or 16ft skiff and remember why they fell in love with the water in the first place. And my advice to clubs would be to work out a secondary pathway that leads to your local amateur senior classes, and not just to the top-level Olympic classes. It’s really not that difficult and if it’s done right you’ll end up with a club culture like Manly, who can now hang their hat on more than 30 16ft skiffs racing every Saturday.
There’s a lot of focus these days put on kids to sail a certain class of boat and achieve success to send them on an Olympic pathway, but there’s no doubt that in all corners of our country there’s avenues to go sailing that promote enjoyment and participation on a much truer level in my opinion. The 16ft skiffs no doubt have a great culture and awesome on-water competition, but the best part about it is that it looks like that’s only going to grow in years to come.
If you want to keep up to date with each race of the Manly 16s season, be sure to follow the Manly16’s Facebook page.
For more information about Down Under Sail contact editor Harry Fisher via email at [email protected]