by David Starck
Let’s face it, when it comes to family dynamics, everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. Whether it be helping kids with math homework, school projects, home improvements, or preparing meals, someone excels over all others at some tasks. Well, it’s no different when it comes to family sailing. Recognizing who possesses what talent or skill is critical for long term success and, more importantly, family happiness on (and off) the water.
About 10 years ago when our girls, Sabrina (14) and Jamie (13), were just getting their feet wet in the sport, the four of us would race together on our Lightning in the Saturday morning club races at Buffalo Canoe Club. The girls and I would rig the boat while Mom (Jody) made “special” lunches for the outing. Unbeknownst to me, she would also gather several beach toys, towels, dolls, and anything else she thought might entertain the girls while racing. When she arrived at the boat with what appeared to be a lot of clutter and excess weight, I asked if it was all necessary while racing. Jody’s response: “Absolutely!!”
On the way to the starting line, we had a family “team meeting” to set some racing ground rules. While I agreed to virtually all terms and conditions Jody and the girls spelled out, I figured once the racing started and we were crossing tacks with the competition, surely our positioning, tactics, boat speed, etc. would “pull rank” over helping change Barbie’s outfit or making a fort under the deck or handing out snacks. The real gut-punch reality check came when we rounded the leeward mark after an impressive downwind leg and the girls declared “it was time to drag behind the boat…” I looked at Jody and strongly inquired if that activity could wait until after the finish. Jody’s response: “Absolutely Not!” After some mild whining, I acquiesced and prepared the throwable.
Jody has known the ‘secret sauce’ for years. Anyone who has been lucky enough to sail with her knows she’s all about having fun, laughing and truly enjoying time with friends and family all the while attempting to compete at a high level. That mindset is exactly what we have tried to instill with our girls. We believe that if you make sailing fun, enjoy the time on the water, enjoy your family and friends, and do not solely focus on preparation and results, kids will become lifelong sailors.
As parents, regardless of the sport, we all want to see our kids excel. We will do almost anything to help them achieve their goals. Remember, it’s their goals, not yours. You don’t necessarily need to turn it into an ‘arms race’ whereby your kid(s) have the best equipment, gear, coaching, structure, etc. Rather, simply providing the opportunity for them to get on the water with friends, tipping over, laughing and enjoying the experience is the key, the secret sauce for a life-long love of sailing (and competing).
It’s not all just sailing with Mom and Dad. We did travel to New Zealand where Sabrina competed in the 2019 Open BIC World Championship. It was a fantastic time where she gained a lot of confidence in big fleet, breezy conditions. For the family, it was all about the experience and supporting her. Jody and I both like to say this about regattas: “Over time, you’ll remember almost everything about the regatta experience except the results.”
Nowadays, as early teenagers, we are trying to expose the girls to a bit more family-type racing and cruising. Sabrina sailed the 2019 NOOD in St. Pete with Debbie Probst. We feel strongly that gaining sailing/racing experiences with adults goes a long way in becoming better sailors. Sailing with friends on 420’s or even the Open Skiff is great, but the knowledge and experience gained sailing with adults is unmatched. The Lightning is a perfect boat (and one-design class) for mentoring young sailors. Last summer during COVID, we sailed club races as a family every Thursday night and Sunday afternoon. Sabrina skippered, Jamie on the bow, and Jody or me in the middle. I’m told they learned some new ‘colorful’ words while racing, some of which aren’t appropriate for this article.
Speaking of the Lightning Class, with a strong junior presence, the girls have sailed in the Junior North American Championship as well as other youth-type events. When planning for these regattas, results don’t lead in the conversation. Rather, having fun with cousins and friends does. It’s what keeps them coming back for more. We believe this is the recipe for future success on the racecourse for many, many years to come.
It is a fact that many youth sailors who go hard core into racing at a very young age burnout from sailing either just before or just after college. That’s right, at age 21 they are done with sailing! What a shame. Sailing is supposed to be a lifetime sport, a lifetime activity. Keep sailing fun, keep kids exposed, support them, let them find their way around the docks and my guess is they will become lifelong sailors too.
As the COVID-19 vaccine gets distributed and the virus recedes, life will return to normal and sailboat racing will come roaring back. Jody and I look forward to sailing with and against our kids, we look forward to watching them compete in High School sailing, youth Lightning regattas, Open Skiff regattas, and even some “off the beach” 29er sailing too. It’ll always be about the fun, about the experiences, and about the friendships. If those goals are met, race results will follow. I promise.
About the Author – David Starck
- Three-time College All-American / NY Maritime College
- Lightning World & North American Champion
- Two-time US Sailing Rolex Yachtsman of the Year Finalist
- Pan American Games Silver Medalist / Rio BR