Spark­ing the Fleets

A pair of ex­pe­ri­enced rac­ers are mak­ing a habit of bring­ing fleets back from the grave and in­vig­o­rat­ing lo­cal sail­ing com­mu­ni­ties.

Sailing World - - Starting Line -

The Nashville sail­ing scene was dy­ing be­fore Chris Laborde’s eyes. Im­me­di­ate ac­tion was re­quired to stop the bleed­ing. Nashville’s older rac­ers were on their way out, and be­hind them was no­body. Over glasses of bour­bon one evening at Har­bor Island YC in Old Hick­ory, Ten­nessee, Laborde, Robert Mat­tix and Tim Fitzger­ald as­sem­bled a rag­tag group of rac­ers and hatched a plan: They would com­mit to buy­ing six boats and to sail eight week­ends.

By process of elim­i­na­tion, the dou­ble­handed Van­guard 15 made it to the top of their list. It’s self- bail­ing, self- res­cu­ing, fast and ex­cit­ing in breeze, and there were plenty of used boats and parts avail­able. They then built a six- boat trailer from do­nated parts, drove to Chicago and re­turned with their starter fleet in tow.

One year later, Nashville’s V15 fleet grew to 19. Some fleet mem­bers had never owned a boat or learned to race, but knowl­edge flowed freely from the top down. The less- ex­pe­ri­enced sailors went from com­fort­able in 10 knots to con­fi­dent in 25. “A suc­cess­ful fleet-build­ing en­vi­ron­ment means there’s a cul­ture of shar­ing in­for­ma­tion,” says Laborde.

Laborde and Fitzger­ald credit Ted Lis­cher, known in Mid­west sail­ing cir­cles as “the god­fa­ther of fleet build­ing,” for their blue­print. Lis­cher built the Kansas City, Kansas, This­tle fleet into one of the na­tion’s largest.

“Ca­ma­raderie is the key in­gre­di­ent in the suc­cess of our fleet,” says Laborde. “It’s cul­ture that will grow the group the quick­est. We es­tab­lished a core group of rac­ers who fit the pro­file of who we thought would be ideal par­tic­i­pants in the fleet, con­vinced them to write checks, and got them to com­mit to events.” To­day, it’s “a sail­ing fam­ily,” adds Laborde, who has been in­volved with grow­ing fleets else­where.

In each suc­ces­sive fleet- build­ing en­deavor, he’s stuck to what he says is a for­mula that works — fo­cus­ing on fam­ily, fun and learn­ing. So­cial op­por­tu­ni­ties and a wel­com­ing at­ti­tude into the fleet are es­sen­tial be­cause not ev­ery­one wants to win a pickle dish. “Hoist the flag on a happy hour, meet at the club after work, get to­gether for hol­i­day fleet par­ties,” says Fitzger­ald, who has also helped grow fleets of Ho­bie 20s in Charleston, South Carolina and Lasers and This­tles in Kansas. “Bor­row­ing boats, crews and skip­pers is easy when ev­ery­one knows each other,” he says. “In­vite new friends and bring non­sailors to the mix. When they’re not wor­ried about be­ing the out­sider, the group grows.”

The racing should be about qual­ity, not quan­tity. “If sail­ing is ev­ery week­end, you have to pick and choose, and causes the ‘who can make it?’ syn­drome,” says Laborde.

In­stead, Laborde sug­gests des­ig­nat­ing one Satur­day per month. “Take a poll early in the sea­son to set the cal­en­dar and fo­cus on get­ting ev­ery­one there for those days. Think of your sched­ule as a boxing match. Jabs are tir­ing and unim­pres­sive. Fo­cus in­stead on land­ing one big hit that gets peo­ple’s at­ten­tion and pro­vides the great mem­o­ries un­til the next one.” Q

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.