Written by: Cole Allsopp, Evan Aras, & Dillon Paiva
This article is written in response to the Airwaves piece done by John Storck: Are Provided Boats Really the Answer?
Changes are occurring rapidly throughout the sailing community: the Volvo Ocean Race is now One Design, the Americas Cup is in foiling catamarans, and sailing clubs across the country are expanding their offerings to include club-owned fleets. Many sailors are voicing their opinion on what exactly a club should offer their membership. To offer a well-rounded program, clubs should consider providing access to a fleet of evenly matched and accessible boats. If we accept that sailing is primarily a leisure-time activity, steps towards encompassing a broader range of participants while allowing sailors to spend more time and less money participating should be the hallmark of any good sailing program. Incorporating club-owned boats into a sailing program serves all these ends.
Sailing is inherently a leisure time activity. Regardless of how serious the competition gets, most of us engage in sailing because its enjoyable, and we choose to use our off hours to sail. Although our sport plays host to a growing number of professionals, these sailors are predominately sponsored by funds earmarked in personal budgets for leisure-time; as opposed to those for investment activity or other personal uses.
Competition in club-owned boats is a natural step towards cutting out travel time and increasing time spent on the water. It follows naturally that clubs and sailors alike should gravitate towards ways to improve the sailing experience. Obvious improvements most will agree with: increase the amount of time spent sailing, decrease the cost of doing so. Why take a Friday off to drive the boat somewhere, when you can just as easily jump on a plane to arrive at the same time with the boat rigged and waiting? For those sailors who can’t afford a professional to handle those types of things, a plane ticket to a venue with club owned boats is the greatest thing since sliced bread. For those who have already burned up all their leave days, the plane ride offers a way to go sailing without further sacrifice. Provided boats are one of the best ways to keep our leisure-time leisurely, and reduce wasted hours spent on the road or behind a sanding block.
Expanding the club-owned boats model makes economic sense, and will provide more value to the average sailing enthusiast. Yacht clubs and sailing clubs are picking up on that fact, and starting to diversify their programs towards providing club-owned boats. Many fleets, including those in Annapolis, play host to an interesting combination of weekend warriors and weeknight racers. Both groups have their own boats, but why? Wouldn’t it be more reasonable for the two parties to coordinate and split the boat? Even the weeknight racer can’t race every night. What about those who want to use a boat for the occasional sail and would happily do so when the boat is not being raced? An owner may be willing to charter-out or loan their boat, but the opportunity cost for loaning a personal boat is high. Consequently, the charter fee is high, and the interested participant is less likely to engage. A fleet of club-owned boats resolves all of those issues. We can easily spread the cost of a fleet over a significant number of people. Not only can we then spend more time sailing and less time maintaining, but participation costs for the average Joe drop significantly. It’s a well-known fact that when you are ordering 18 suits of sails, you get a much better price than a single suit. Ordering a fleet of boats rather than singular boats is less expensive for the manufacturer, and by extension less expensive for the consumer. When a club can host more members with fewer boats, it’s not even a stretch to conclude that a club fleet can operate on less real estate, with a lower boat-footprint per member. Real-estate is a major expenditure for any growing club, so why not use space as efficiently as possible? A potential burden associated with a club-owned fleet is additional administration requirements. Those are most likely already in place, or would be necessary to manage storage for privately owned boats. If additional staff is needed, the net savings and additional membership revenue could easily be redirected towards funding additional personnel requirements. When factoring in the economies of scale gained from buying fleets in bulk and the usage-efficiency gained per member, the financial benefits to a club-fleet are clear.
For those readers having attended business school, the technology cycle will be all too familiar. For the rest of us, here’s a refresher: a small niche market first adopts a disruptive technology or practice. Improvements are made as its adopted into the mainstream market. After some time, the product becomes a commodity and is sustained by the late adapter market until it becomes obsolete. Every CEO is familiar with this cycle and how it applies to their business. In order to prevent their entire business from going away with their initial product, a company must diversify into other markets with the revenue they gained early on. Obviously there are differences between sailing clubs and Silicon Valley, but it’s not a stretch to apply the process to any entity looking for sustainability. In sailing’s case, it seems that the Hobie fleet, ICSA (Inter-Collegiate Sailing Association), ISSA (Inter-Scholastic Sailing Association) and a few other forward thinking organizations managed to work themselves into the early adopter category of the new club-owned boat format. They have paved the way for mainstream sailing to explore the idea of the club-owned fleet. It’s important to keep in mind that cycles of this nature often occur over decades, and can be hard to imagine without broadening one’s time horizon.
The presence of a club-owned fleet in a yacht club or sailing club is far from the end of the traditional model of privately owned boats. It merely represents an organization’s wise move to diversify their operations into the new emerging category. Those who have had exposure to the labor of love that is boat ownership can appreciate the finer points of quarter turns onto an Etchells rig and the look of a freshly polished hull. It’s extremely unlikely that a 505 sailor would give up the tweaking and tuning that so defines them. High performance fleets may be best left to the care of private owners who are in no danger of converting completely away from the performance sailing that they love. In order to be well-rounded, a sailing club can and should accommodate both types of sailors. The joys of tinkering and finding small advantages in handiwork will never go away, and should not factor into the decision to include club-owned boats into our programs.
No matter what you enjoy most about sailing, it would be a shame to let the benefits of club-owned fleets slip away from a program. With a well-executed diversification strategy, a local sailing club can do a great service to the community by providing access to sailing, all for a reasonable price. Lets do ourselves a favor and take that next step towards keeping our leisure-time leisurely, and expand our boundaries to include club-owned boats.
What do you think? Add your comment below!
Written by: Cole Allsopp, Evan Aras, & Dillon Paiva