“Take care of the kids and the rest will take care of itself.”
Suppose you’re wondering who said this quote – I am proud to say it was my late grandfather Arthur Fisher a long time ago, well before I was born. From what I have been told over the years, Arthur was a passionate sailor, a hard-working sailmaker and a father to a number of children who also loved getting on the water (one of them was my dad). I am proud to say he, along with his father/my great grandfather, Tom, was a pioneer of junior sailing in South Australia, bringing the Holdfast Trainer to local waters and encouraging youngsters to get involved in the sport and sail with their mates. For those of you playing elsewhere in Australia, a Holdfast Trainer (or Holdy as it is more commonly known) is basically a Sabot with a bowsprit, a jib and another person.
Throughout my childhood, I grew up enjoying getting on the water and going sailing with my mates with no real focus on results until I was a little older sailing in the International Cadet Class. Even when my old man took over as President of the South Australian Holdy Association he made it very clear that every sailor needed to win a prize, whether that was for being the overall champion or if it was a brand new pair of sailing gloves for winning the Chatterbox Award – everyone won a prize.
This all-inclusive, infectious and above-all enjoyable environment that I, and so many of my childhood friends, had the opportunity to grow up with is something that paved the way for our sailing futures – and whether we went on to win national titles, sail in Sydney Hobart races or even just float around in the mid 50s of a national Sharpie fleet – the important thing was we were still there, still competing.
Last weekend here at Down Under Sail we had the privilege to partner with Australian Sailing to help cover the South Australian Youth Championships at the Largs Bay Sailing Club. It was a great event with hundred of kids taking to the water, some at the elite end of the youth program pushing themselves to the limit to be their best, those at the entry level of sailing just learning the basic skills and having a great time, as well as everything in between. I spent a great deal of time on the Green Fleet course as well as with the Optimist Open and Open Bic fleets taking photos and seeing all the new faces that have gotten involved in the sport – and during this time it brought me back to the early days of my sailing and why we all got involved in the first place.
What I learnt was that among that group of Green Fleet sailors, we may have a future Olympian, we may have a future Sydney Hobart line honours helmsman, or we may have a national champion in any of the great classes sailed at local clubs in Australia. But what I think will happen if those sailors are encouraged to do exactly what they enjoy within the sport from here until the end, the most important thing they will become above all else is a participant.
The ethos of Green Fleet racing pulls the sport right back to its roots and teaches those involved that simply being on the water and having fun in boats is the most important thing we can ever do. It also teaches us that any success from then on is simply a by-product of having a wonderful time. I think back to my first International Cadet Nationals that I sailed in with my sister Ellen where we were lucky enough to be treated to the words of yachting icon Sir James Hardy at the opening ceremony. Sir James put it all in perspective when he quoted a famous line from Wind in the Willows…
“Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”
If you’re in charge of junior development at any sailing club within Australia, I firmly believe those are the words to live by. If we do that then it’s fair to say we will continue to see sailing thrive.