Over 90 interested parties convened at the Royal Southern Yacht Club on Saturday 29 September to consider the question ‘Where have all the dayboats gone?’, and try to provide some ideas on how to grow and nurture the central Solent dayboat fleets again.
Organised against a background of a halving in the number of entries in the central Solent dayboat classes at the Royal Southern over the last six years, Stuart Quarrie, CEO of Cowes Week Ltd, pointed out that some of the other classes had held up well or had only seen marginal declines in entries. The problems were concentrated in what Peter Poland, formerly of Hunter Boats, described as the ‘whizzo’ boats, or, more formally, the Sportsboat arena, rather than the more traditional classes.
After examining the rise and fall of classes since the Solings in the 70s, J/24s in the 80s and many classes since then, including the 707s and 1720s,both introduced by the Southern nearly 20 years ago, contributions to the debate came from individual sailors, Class Associations and Clubs.
Panel members Peter Poland, Martin Wadhams (RS Sailing), Jerry Hill (Sportsboat World) and Paul Heys (Key Yachting) led with their views as marketers. They covered the importance of the second hand market as well the need to bring in new classes and people, the need to appeal to a good mix of gender and ages and to recognise that sailing is part of a highly competitive sporting arena. Families, and the social aspects were important elements as time is at a premium, whilst boat and car parking were just two of the costly obstacles to many.
Cost vs value was a recurring theme
The cost / value equation was a recurring theme in the debate from the floor. Steve Warren-Smith, Captain of the Squib fleet at the Royal Victoria Yacht Club, revealed that after their Club’s annual subscription of £200, the only additional cost for sailing was £200 pa including moorings from a friendly Harbour Master, and winter storage from a friendly neighbouring land owner! Compare that with a commercial dry berth cost on the Hamble at a minimum £4,000 pa. Designer Jonty Sherwill agreed that high costs are a problems but also wanted a more varied and inclusive sailing programme whilst Julian Bunce of the Army Sailing Association agreed that it was more fun to get three or four races in a day. Richard Davies from Seaview YC noted that they used to have lots of external events in their Mermaids, but this year, none and he is tasked with trying to reverse the trend there.
Points of view shared by spokespeople from the traditional classes at Bembridge, Seaview and Itchenor emphasised the importance of family continuity. This kept the boats cared for and active: Gayle Palmer, Secretary of the Solent Sunbeams, sails a boat that has been in her family for its entire 80-year existence.
Meanwhile, Daring Class Captain David Gower, extolled the virtues of syndicates in keeping the Daring fleet healthy, and also the new lease of life given by building new boats. Dr Stepanie Merry liked the idea of sharing a dayboat and Peter Poland thought the Victory Class in Portsmouth had also rejuvenated itself with new GRP boats.
It became clear that there are more differences than merely speed between the more traditional, established classes and the new go faster classes. In the second-hand market, the running costs can sometimes be equal to or greater than the capital value which is when boats leave the Solent and find new homes around the coast, and in Ireland and Europe. Jill Stevenson, Sailing Secretary from the Royal London Yacht Club, thought that we should instead be asking – where have all the dayboat sailors gone?
Recurring topics included the lack of resources for day sailors, ranging from a general shortage of parking spaces and easy access, to affordable moorings and cranage and the high costs of those that are available. Many felt that there needed to be new discussions opened up with the Harbour Masters and local Councils about better and cheaper options. The Clubs were felt by some to be too traditional still and with too many regulations.
The cost of race entry fees was also queried. Dermot O’Malley, Commodore of the Hamble River Sailing Club, clearly differentiated between low cost evening racing and the major events like their Winter Series. One had very few direct costs whereas the other had 40 volunteer race officers to be fed and transported, RIBs and Committee boats not just to be fuelled but also bought and maintained. This was echoed by Brian Mead, Rear Commodore Sailing and Past Treasurer of the Royal Southern, who also referred to similar debates at the recent ICOYC Forum held at the Club.
Communications should also be improved. It was notable that active Class Captains were part of active fleets and it was agreed that social media has a bigger role to play. Bronwyn Curtis said that she had her boat on the hard all year, and no-one had asked her to put it on the water and take other enthusiasts out for a sail, and Dr Gillian Ross thought that more should be done to encourage women to get involved gradually, without being shouted at!
Are windward/leewards getting boring and what about more evening racing? This was growing in Lymington, for example, and many of the ICOYC member clubs overseas are introducing it. By using simpler courses, these could be laid at less cost. Two day weekends or single days, even half days were all on the agenda for some, as pressure on people’s time as well as cost was recognised.
Do we need a mixed boat rule?
There was no shortage of views from the floor which was the purpose of holding the debate. In conclusion, Jerry Hill urged the Southern to focus on two or three classes and a bigger variety of courses. Paul Heys thought there was an argument for some kind of mixed boat rule, like the defunct ‘SBR’ (Sportsboat Rule) to get old boats out and launch new boats; new boats bring new people into sailing and also ultimately fuel the second hand market. Martin Wadhams summarised his key points as being addressing accessibility, costs, making it user friendly for crews and getting the communications right. Finally, Peter Poland stated that this was a pivotal time. ‘There is a future and both the classic dayboats and the whizzy ones have a serious part to play,’ he stated.
In closing, Past Commodore Colin Hall promised that the Club would be studying the feedback questionnaires and circulating a summary to all attendees. He commented, ‘The Royal Southern wants to work with other clubs and their classes to help increase the size of the dayboat fleets and I have no doubt that our Club’s 2013 programme will show some new thinking covering both the variety and cost of sailing’. He finished by saying that he hoped that in 2013 in answer to the question ‘Where have all the dayboats gone?’, the answer would be – ‘GONE SAILING’!