What is the general image that depicts the yacht-racing breed? Perhaps it’s a gentleman with a bushy mustache in white pants and a matching captain’s hat – an ornate wooden pipe within reach – at the helm of a very long wooden boat. Or maybe the Larry Ellison/Ted Turner stereotype is more ingrained – extremely wealthy men in there 40s or 50s, killing time with multimillion dollar toys, competing against each other for hardware and bragging rights.
While this imagery has, through a variety of means, earned its way into the clich/ portrayal of the American yachtsman, on a broader scope, it’s in no way accurate. Modern sailboat racing, particularly at the club (local) level, is a sport that allows for a wide range of ages, income levels and skill sets in its competitors.
“The reality is that normal everyday people own sailboats – not fantastically wealthy – and these boats are not these huge devices that take an enormous amount of experience,” said Greg Rutter, who is involved in the upcoming daylong Introduction to Yacht Racing event, to be held March 24 at the Del Rey Yacht Club in Marina del Rey. “The perception is that someone needs to have years of training before they can step foot on [a racing boat] – not true – you can get out and learn it on the fly.”
Rutter has been racing in the Santa Monica Bay for 26 years and is driven to dispelling the myths that surround the sport he loves. He believes many people are under the impression that racing is a closed, invite-only, type of activity that involves expensive memberships to exclusive yacht clubs or that the learning curve is steep.
Rutter discounts the exclusivity myth, pointing to the Introduction to Yacht Racing program and other outreach efforts local clubs continually make to attract new racers. To the learning curve concern, he points to how racing is able to accommodate such a wide range of ages and skill levels all on the same boat.
“The fact that you can have a very experienced blue water sailor, a very experienced tactician, and someone who is [simply] strong enough to pull a line, drag a sail or haul a halyard – working on the same boat as peers and as a team is tremendous,” said Rutter. “You don’t find that in a lot of sports.”
The event itself is offered to the public for free and provides seminars to acclimate would-be sailors to the sport and on-water training in 30- to 45-foot boats to give them a taste of what it’s all about. In addition, there will be safety training and a debriefing session after the racing. Organizers hope the event yields new converts to the sport and at the very least provides a fun day for people interested in a day of sailing competition on the water.
“The owners are grateful for their volunteer crew who focus on learning the skills to help their skipper win races,” said longtime racer and event volunteer Tim Tunks, on behalf of skippers with new-to-the-sport crew. “‘Win-win’ is the name of this game because everyone gets to enjoy this expensive sport – those who pay the bills and those who get a wonderful free ride and a taste of focused competition.”
Tunks, a former ASMBYC Sportsman of the Year, is dedicated to growing the sport and is motivated by recent societal changes that have him concerned.
“Yacht clubs have been the traditional base for sailboat racing,” Tunks explains. “Sailing families would belong and bring their kids up sailing. As these kids matured as sailors, they became crew for the adults until they became adults and parents themselves, thus renewing the cycle.
“Many pressures, not the least of which have been recent world-wide economic difficulties, have greatly reduced the number of sailing families in yacht clubs. Yacht racers are looking for new sources of crew, for the larger boats all require lots of manpower to race effectively.”
For more information about Introduction to Yacht Racing, contact Rutter at (206) 551-9090.